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noun, plural pen·knives.
  1. a small pocketknife, formerly one used for making and sharpening quill pens.
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Origin of penknife

late Middle English word dating back to 1400–50; see origin at pen1, knife
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words

penknife, pocketknife, switchblade

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British Dictionary definitions for penknife


noun plural -knives
  1. a small knife with one or more blades that fold into the handle; pocketknife
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Word Origin

C15: so called because it was originally used for making and repairing quill pens
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 penknife


early 15c., from pen (n.1) + knife (n.). So called because such small knives were used to sharpen quills.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper