[ spiv ]
/ spɪv /

noun British Informal.

a petty criminal, especially a black marketeer, racetrack tout, or petty thief.

Origin of spiv

1885–90; back formation from dial. spiving smart; perhaps akin to spiffy
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for spiv


/ (spɪv) /


British slang a person who makes a living by underhand dealings or swindling; black marketeer
Derived Formsspivvy, adjective

Word Origin for spiv

C20: back formation from dialect spiving smart; compare spiffy, spiffing
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 spiv



"petty crook who will turn his hand to anything so long as it does not involve honest work," 1934, British slang, probably dating back to late 19c. and connected with spiff (see spiffy) in one of its various senses. Being a flashy dresser was a spiv characteristic.

The spiv reached his apotheosis during World War II and the succeeding years, when the disrupted economic conditions allowed ample scope for unofficial trading (a pair of nylons here, a few packets of cigarettes there) and other petty crime. He became a stock figure in the English social comedy, represented on screen by such stereotypes as 'Flash Harry' (played by George Cole) in the St. Trinian's films and Pte. Walker in Dad's Army. [Ayto, "20th Century Words"]
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper