Definitions

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

  • n. A despicable coward; a wretch.
  • adj. Despicable and cowardly.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A base or despicable person; a wretch
  • n. a captive or prisoner, particularly a galley slave
  • n. a villain, a coward or wretch
  • adj. Especially despicable; cowardly

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. Captive; wretched; unfortunate.
  • adj. Base; wicked and mean; cowardly; despicable.
  • n. A captive; a prisoner.
  • n. A wretched or unfortunate man.
  • n. A mean, despicable person; one whose character meanness and wickedness meet.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • Captive.
  • Wretched; miserable.
  • Servile; base; ignoble; cowardly.
  • n. A captive; a prisoner; a slave.
  • n. A mean villain; a despicable knave; one who is both wicked and mean.

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

  • adj. despicably mean and cowardly
  • n. a cowardly and despicable person

Etymologies

Middle English caitif, from Norman French, from Latin captīvus, prisoner; see captive.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Old French caitif ("captive"), a variant of chaitif (French chétif), from a Proto-Romance alteration of Latin captivus ("captive"); compare Italian cattivo ("bad, wicked"). (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • The "caitiff" in these chronicles of when knighthood was in flower is invariably hanged from "the highest battlement" -- the second highest would not do at all; or else he is thrown into "the deepest dungeon of the castle" -- the second deepest dungeon was never known to be used on these occasions.

    Ponkapog Papers.

  • The "caitiff" in these chronicles of when knighthood was in flower is invariably hanged from

    Ponkapog Papers

  • "caitiff," even by a voice somewhat treble and a trifle trembling, left me every reason in the world to be surprised, annoyed and grieved.

    The Lady and the Pirate Being the Plain Tale of a Diligent Pirate and a Fair Captive

  • Sure Casey is pro-life, but this godless caitiff supports public funding of contraception and the over-the-counter-sale of Plan B!

    Midterm Roundup

  • “I am a fool,” he instantly added, “to vent my passion upon a caitiff so worthless.”

    The Bride of Lammermoor

  • A voice from the ruins, like that of a sullen echo from the grave, answered, ‘Itat Schreckenwald!’ and the caitiff issued from his place of concealment, and stood before me with that singular indifference to danger which he unites to his atrocity of character.

    Anne of Geierstein

  • But my worst acts are but merry malice: I have no relish for the bloody trade, and abhor to see or hear of its being acted even on the meanest caitiff.

    The Fair Maid of Perth

  • “Here, some of you, toss this caitiff into the horse trough; that for once in his life he may be washed clean.”

    The Fair Maid of Perth

  • Each bell that tolled rung out, ‘Shame on the recreant caitiff!’

    The Fair Maid of Perth

  • A half-bred, half-acting, half-thinking, half-daring caitiff, whose poorest thoughts — and those which deserve that name must be poor indeed — are not the produce of his own understanding.

    Count Robert of Paris

Comments

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  • "Such miserable caitiffs, that shall there
    Rebukes of vengeance, for transgressions bear."
    John Bunyan (1628-1688), From Mount Ebal

    September 20, 2009

  • The arch. and obs. meaning of the noun caitiff was
    1. captive, prisoner, a wretched man.

    The word has undergone a change and is now an adjective meaning
    2. base, wicked, mean, cowardly, despicable.

    "The deep-felt conviction of men that slavery breaks down the moral character...speaks out with...distinctness in the change of meaning which caitiff has undergone signifying as it now does, one of a base, abject disposition, while there was a time when it had nothing of this in it."
    --Trench.

    December 30, 2008

  • Hot damn!! I knew it!!

    December 4, 2008

  • "Captain Thomas J. C. Martyn . . . was asked to give his opinion on recent despatches from Berlin which stated that Count Manfred von Richthofen, celebrated German flyer, was not shot in the air but killed by caitiff riflemen after he had made a safe landing behind the British lines."
    - 'Friendly Enemies', Time.

    December 4, 2008

  • cowardly, despicable

    February 23, 2007