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Caitiff is pretty rare in contemporary use, but it has functioned since the 14th century as an adjective and also as a noun meaning "a base, cowardly, or despicable person" (as in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure: "O thou caitiff! O thou varlet! O thou wicked Hannibal!"). Both the adjective and the noun evolved from the Anglo-French adjective caitif, meaning "wretched, despicable." The French word in turn derived from the Latin captivus, meaning "captive"-the shift from "captive" to "wretched" being perhaps prompted by the perception of captives as wretched and worthy of scorn.
Origin of caitiff
Middle English caitif, from Anglo-French caitif, chaitif wretched, despicable, from Latin captivus captive
First Known Use: 14th century
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