cai·​tiff | \ ˈkā-təf How to pronounce caitiff (audio) \

Definition of caitiff

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Other Words from caitiff

caitiff noun

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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.

First Known Use of caitiff

14th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for caitiff

Middle English caitif, from Anglo-French caitif, chaitif wretched, despicable, from Latin captivus captive

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The first known use of caitiff was in the 14th century

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Cite this Entry

“Caitiff.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 7 May. 2021.

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