Origin of knave

before 1000; Middle English; Old English cnafa; cognate with German Knabe boy; akin to Old Norse knapi page, boy
Can be confusedknave naval nave (see synonym study at the current entry)

Synonyms for knave

1. blackguard, villain, scamp, scapegrace. Knave, rascal, rogue, scoundrel are disparaging terms applied to persons considered base, dishonest, or worthless. Knave, which formerly meant merely a boy or servant, in modern use emphasizes baseness of nature and intention: a dishonest and swindling knave. Rascal suggests shrewdness and trickery in dishonesty: a plausible rascal. A rogue is a worthless fellow who sometimes preys extensively upon the community by fraud: photographs of criminals in a rogues' gallery. A scoundrel is a blackguard and rogue of the worst sort: a thorough scoundrel. Rascal and rogue are often used affectionately or humorously ( an entertaining rascal; a saucy rogue ), but knave and scoundrel are not.

Antonyms for knave Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for knaves

Historical Examples of knaves

  • The knaves led them from the stables, but fled without them.

    The White Company

    Arthur Conan Doyle

  • Why should you leave all the gains to the gluttons, knaves, and impostors?

    Little Dorrit

    Charles Dickens

  • Assisted by a couple of knaves, Ganymede went about attending to the rebel at once.

  • And so, what think you these two knaves—this master knave and his dupe—have determined?

    The Suitors of Yvonne

    Raphael Sabatini

  • And so I pushed on to Blois with my knaves close at my heels.

    The Suitors of Yvonne

    Raphael Sabatini

British Dictionary definitions for knaves


  1. archaic a dishonest man; rogue
  2. another word for jack 1 (def. 6)
  3. obsolete a male servant
Derived Formsknavish, adjectiveknavishly, adverbknavishness, noun

Word Origin for knave

Old English cnafa; related to Old High German knabo boy
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for knaves



Old English cnafa "boy, male servant," common Germanic (cf. Old High German knabo "boy, youth, servant," German knabe "boy, lad," also probably related to Old English cnapa "boy, youth, servant," Old Norse knapi "servant boy," Dutch knaap "a youth, servant," Middle High German knappe "a young squire," German Knappe "squire, shield-bearer"). The original meaning might have been "stick, piece of wood" [Klein]. Sense of "rogue, rascal" first recorded c.1200. In playing cards, "the jack," 1560s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper