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- (obsolete) a captive or prisoner
- (archaic) a villain, a coward or wretch
*Late C14: For, certes, lord, þer is noon of us alle / Þat she ne haþ been a duchesse or a queene. / Now be we caytyves, as it is wel seene, / Þanked be Fortune and hire false wheel — Geoffrey Chaucer, The Knight's Tale
*1989: ‘There are plenty of Huns who have defected to the Romans, seeking gold and a quiet life. One of my first tasks as paramount chief is to bring those caitiffs back and crucify them.' — Anthony Burgess, The Devil's Mode
- The Nuttall Encyclopedia
Cai"tiff (?), a. [OE.
caitif, cheitif, captive, miserable, OF.
caitif, chaitif, captive, mean, wretched, F.
chétif, fr. L. captivus captive, fr.
capere to take, akin to E. heave. See Heave,
and cf. Captive.] 1. Captive;
wretched; unfortunate. [Obs.] Chaucer.
2. Base; wicked and mean; cowardly;
Arnold had sped his caitiff flight.
Cai"tiff, n. A captive; a
Avarice doth tyrannize over her caitiff and
2. A wretched or unfortunate man.
3. A mean, despicable person; one whose
character meanness and wickedness meet.
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.
- Webster's Unabridged Dictionary (1913)
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