This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Word To Use Today: spiv.

I'd thought the word spiv was sinking into the grave, all but forgotten, and now here it is popping up again, bright as ever.


Spiv is a British slang word for a particular type of minor criminal. The term became popular in Britain during the Second World War, and it describes someone who sells illegal goods - usually, in those days, rationed ones.

A typical spiv was charming, and definitely a smart dresser. A spiv could get you anything, even nylon stockings, so you could stop drawing lines up the backs of your legs and pretending they were stocking-seams.

Someone a bit like this:

There have always been spiv-type criminals about, of course, but the term had fallen into disuse until just the last week, when the clever people in Brussels, trying to find a way to persuade people they've got more money than they really do, have come up with an idea called a Special Purpose Investment Vehicle.


Honestly, you couldn't make it up. No, really, you couldn't: if I put  that in a novel everyone would mutter about its being contrived and unconvincing.

Still, it's great to see the word spiv getting a new lease of life.

Do enjoy it.

Word To Use Today: spiv. This word probably started off as racecourse slang. It might come from a dialect word, spiving, which means smart.

Other possibilities are that it comes from the Romany word spiv which means sparrow, or that it might be a back-slang form of VIPs, or a police acronym for Suspected Person and Itinerant Vagrant.

There was a character called Henry 'Spiv' Bagster in early 1900s London who was a small-time crook, and he might be the origin of the word, too.

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