Definitions

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

  • noun One, usually unemployed, who lives by one's wits.
  • noun One who shirks work or responsibility; a slacker.

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

  • noun UK, dated a smartly dressed person who trades in illicit, black-market or stolen goods
  • noun UK, dated a flashy con artist, often homeless, who lives by his wits
  • noun UK, dated in Scotland Yard usage, a low and common thief
  • noun UK, dated a slacker; one who shirks responsibility

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

  • noun a person without employment who makes money by various dubious schemes; goes about smartly dressed and having a good time

Etymologies

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

[Dialectal spif, dandified, dandy.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Perhaps from spiff, spiffy. 'Spiv' was the nickname of Henry Bagster, a Londoner arrested a number of times in 1904-6 for activities as described below, and may have been the archetype.

Examples

  • Update: Upon reflection I think Mr Weston might well be seen as a slightly camp version of what the English used to call a "spiv".

    Israelis in Afstan to support Canadian UAVs?

  • However, he was only following the precedent set by the spineless grinning 'spiv' Blair who constantly referred to and talked about:

    Army Rumour Service

  • This political 'spiv' gave no thought to the aftermath of his decisions internationally or nationally.

    Army Rumour Service

  • This political 'spiv' gave no thought to the aftermath of his decisions internationally or nationally.

    Army Rumour Service

  • Finally, the word "spiv": no fashion lesson here, just enjoyment of the word's debut on this page.

    British Blogs

  • Finally, the word "spiv": no fashion lesson here, just enjoyment of the word's debut on this page.

    Pretty Blogger

  • - the stupidity of so many voters who believed in the vacuous 'spiv' Blair and the spin from Campbell and the twice disgraced Mandelson.

    Army Rumour Service

  • The roots lie in the British 80s and 90s -- two decades defined by the "chav" and "spiv" culture that was the fruit of the Murdoch 'n' Maggie as in Margaret Thatcher union.

    Martin Lewis: A Big Pile of Murdoch: The Ultimate Legacy of Rupert Merde...

  • HM Treasury famously preens itself as having a collection of the very finest minds Oxbridge can produce – a pity then their principal activity seems to be devising spiv-like ways of deceiving the punters.

    Society daily 26.10.2010

  • The spiv, the showman; Mr Blair promised a brave new world - a shining castle on the hill - very Reaganish... a promise he most certainly could not uphold as there was no hill, the castle was made of papier mache and when the rains came it melted away......

    The coalition counts on blaming Labour for everything. Bad move| Rafael Behr

Comments

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  • Author of the thunderous ongoing recitatif, the spiv recital, its shill featurettes and occasions... John Latta, Isola di Rifiuti

    June 5, 2007