From Middle English knave, knafe, from Old English cnafa (“child, boy, youth; servant”), from Proto-Germanic *knabô (“boy, youth”), from Proto-Indo-European *gnebʰ- (“to press, tighten”), from Proto-Indo-European *gen- (“to pinch, squeeze, bend, press together, ball”). Cognate with German Knabe (“lad”), Dutch knaap (“lad”), Danish knabe, Icelandic knapi. Related also to knape.
knave (plural knaves)
- (archaic) A boy; especially, a boy servant.
- (archaic) Any male servant; a menial.
- c. 1603–1604, William Shakespeare, “The Tragedie of Othello, the Moore of Venice”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies: Published According to the True Originall Copies (First Folio), London: Printed by Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358, [Act 1, scene 1]:
- Many a duteous and knee-crooking knave that, doting on his own obsequious bondage, wears out his time, much like his master's ass, For naught but provender, and when he's old – cashier'd! Whip me such honest knaves.
- A tricky, deceitful fellow; a dishonest person.
- 1908, W[illiam] B[lair] M[orton] Ferguson, chapter II, in Zollenstein, New York, N.Y.: D. Appleton & Company, OCLC 731476803:
- I had never defrauded a man of a farthing, nor called him knave behind his back. But now the last rag that covered my nakedness had been torn from me. I was branded a blackleg, card-sharper, and murderer.
- 1951, Geoffrey Chaucer; Nevill Coghill, transl., The Canterbury Tales: Translated into Modern English (Penguin Classics), Penguin Books, published 1977, page 204:
- God's bones! Whenever I go to beat those knaves / my tapsters, out she [my wife] comes with clubs and staves, / "Go on!" she screams — and it's a caterwaul — / "You kill those dogs! Break back and bones and all!"
- (card games) A playing card marked with the figure of a servant or soldier; a jack.
- See also Thesaurus:villain
- son, male child (offspring)
- boy, lad, male child or baby
- guy, bloke, man
- servant, hireling, menial
- peasant, lowly individual
- infantryman, soldier
- knave, caitiff, despicable individual