[ shiv ]
/ ʃɪv /
Save This Word!
See synonyms for: shiv / shivved / shivving on Thesaurus.com

Definition of shiv

noun Slang.
a knife, especially a switchblade.
Also called shank . an improvised or homemade weapon for cutting or stabbing, especially one honed by a prison inmate or used by a criminal.
verb (used with object)
to cut or stab (someone) with a shiv; shank.
Hold your head up high as you embark on this quiz that explores some of the synonyms and meanings of “pride.”
Question 1 of 7
What does "dignity" mean?
Rarely chiv .

Origin of shiv

First recorded in 1665–75; perhaps alteration of Romani chiv “blade”
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does shiv mean?

A shiv is a slang term for a knife, especially a switchblade. It is most often used to refer to improvised blades made in prison and the act of stabbing (shivving) fellow inmates or guards with them.

Where does shiv come from?

Shiv originates in British thieves’ slang term for a “knife,” chive or chiv, dating back to the 17th century. It is thought that chive and chiv are rooted in a Romani word for “blade.”

Shiv is an American English version of chive showing up as early as 1897. In his memoir The Road, Jack London chronicles his days as a hobo. He documents a lot of slang he encounters while hopping trains, including shiv for”knife.”

Shiv (shivving, shivved) has been used as a verb since at least the 1930s. In the story “Dream Street Rose” by Damon Runyon, for instance, a character is shivved (“stabbed”) by another. Shiv spread as a slang term in prisons, especially for knives improvised out of material at hand.

How is shiv used in real life?

Shiv is most often used to refer specifically to homemade knives in prison. A similar term to shiv is shank.


More examples of shiv:

“I broke one of my rules earlier today and went into Trader Joe’s (on a holiday!) — looked like a prison riot and I was without my shiv!”
—@elitejano, September 2008

“Dough Boy was the shot-caller, or the leader of his respective tribe, responsible for everything from negotiating with other factions to approving a well-placed shiv in someone’s abdomen.”
—Tim Alberta, Politico, September 2018


This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

How to use shiv in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for shiv

/ (ʃɪv) /

a variant spelling of chiv
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