Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. Chiefly British A laborer, especially one employed in construction or excavation projects.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. a laborer on a civil engineering project such as a canal or railroad

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. Originally, a laborer on canals for internal navigation; hence, a laborer on other public works, as in building railroads, embankments, etc.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. Same as navigation, 4.
  • n. Same as navigator, 2.
  • n. A common laborer engaged in such work as the making of canals or railways.
  • n. A power-machine for excavating earth.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a laborer who is obliged to do menial work

Etymologies

Short for navigator, canal laborer (obsolete).
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From the navigation canals upon which these workers first toiled. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • The navvy was a fine specimen of humanity, with a complexion tanned a dusky coffee colour.

    The Right Stuff Some Episodes in the Career of a North Briton

  • "Sanitary Tom" (as the boys called the navvy who was his stout ally), had been at work laying bare the subterranean geography of our premises and making all right.

    Uppingham by the Sea a Narrative of the Year at Borth

  • It was in the formation of this, the true beginning of railways, that the British "navvy" was called into being.

    The Iron Horse

  • He can doff them and work like a 'navvy' when he sees reason.

    The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakspere Unfolded

  • "navvy," had just disposed of a supply of rugs and was wending his way homeward at the same time.

    I Married a Ranger

  • He was good for nothing now except navvy work, and his broken nose and swollen ear were against him even in that.

    A PIECE OF STEAK

  • He had done a few days 'navvy work when he could get it, and he had run around the Domain in the early mornings to get his legs in shape.

    A PIECE OF STEAK

  • He felt weak and sore, and the pain of his smashed knuckles warned him that, even if he could find a job at navvy work, it would be a week before he could grip a pick handle or a shovel.

    A PIECE OF STEAK

  • Oh, I sleep like a baby, eat like a navvy, and in years have not enjoyed such physical well-being.

    CHAPTER XLIV

  • It is a building where the homeless, bedless, penniless man, if he be lucky, may CASUALLY rest his weary bones, and then work like a navvy next day to pay for it.

    A WINNER OF THE VICTORIA CROSS

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Comments

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  • Irish Navvy
    Blasket Islands

    July 11, 2008

  • The derivation from navigator never seemed plausible to me, but is correct, apparently. Michael Quinion writes about it here, .

    Anyone who attended secondary school in Ireland is bound to be familiar with the work of a navvy. The infamous "Dialann Deorai", translated into English as "Irish Navvy : Diary of an Exile", was mandatory reading for the Intermediate Cert exam.

    Since there were pathetically few authors writing in Irish, the same few books showed up on the syllabus year after year. The other hardy perennials were the appalling, oppressive Blaskets memoirs:

    "An t-Oileánach" (The Islander), by Tomás Ó Criomhthain,
    "Fiche Blian ag Fás" (Twenty Years A-Growing) by Muiris Ó Súilleabháin,
    and the altogether execrable "Peig" by the batty old she-demon herself, Peig Sayers.

    The doom-and-gloom maunderings of this marginally literate peasant trio are brilliantly skewered in Flann O' Brien's An Béal Bocht (The Poor Mouth).


    July 11, 2008

  • When I first saw this word I thought it was a bizarre misspelling of navy.

    My favorite lyrical usage is in Towers of London by XTC:

    Fog is the sweat of the never never navvies who pound
    Spikes in the rails to their very own heaven

    June 27, 2008

  • A construction worker; spec. a labourer employed in the construction of (originally) a canal, (now freq.) a road, railway, etc.

    Favorite Songs: "Navigator" by the Pogues. "Poor Paddy," trad., arr. Pogues. "The Navvy on the Line," trad. British/Irish (used in fife and drum).

    February 2, 2007

  • "A drunken navvy ups with both hands the railings of an area, lurching heavily."
    Joyce, Ulysses, 15

    January 28, 2007