noun, plural pen·knives.

a small pocketknife, formerly one used for making and sharpening quill pens.


Origin of penknife

late Middle English word dating back to 1400–50; see origin at pen1, knife Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

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Historical Examples of penknife

British Dictionary definitions for penknife


noun plural -knives

a small knife with one or more blades that fold into the handle; pocketknife

Word Origin for penknife

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.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper