from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun A despicable coward; a wretch.
  • adjective Despicable and cowardly.

from The Century Dictionary.

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

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

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

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun A base or despicable person; a wretch
  • noun obsolete a captive or prisoner, particularly a galley slave
  • noun archaic a villain, a coward or wretch
  • adjective Especially despicable; cowardly

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

  • adjective despicably mean and cowardly
  • noun a cowardly and despicable person


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

[Middle English caitif, from Norman French, from Latin captīvus, prisoner; see captive.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

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").


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  • 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. 1904

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

    Ponkapog Papers Thomas Bailey Aldrich 1871

  • "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 Emerson Hough 1890

  • 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 2009

  • “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 2008

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

    The Fair Maid of Perth 2008

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

    The Bride of Lammermoor 2008

  • 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 2008

  • 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 2008

  • 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 2008


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  • cowardly, despicable

    February 23, 2007

  • "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

  • Hot damn!! I knew it!!

    December 4, 2008

  • 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."


    December 30, 2008

  • "Such miserable caitiffs, that shall there

    Rebukes of vengeance, for transgressions bear."

    John Bunyan (1628-1688), From Mount Ebal

    September 20, 2009