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Meaning of Caiiff

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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; despicable.

Arnold had sped his caitiff flight.
W. Irving.

Cai"tiff, n. A captive; a prisoner. [Obs.]

Avarice doth tyrannize over her caitiff and slave.

2. A wretched or unfortunate man. [Obs.] Chaucer.

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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