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Contraction of navigation, in reference to the navigation canals upon which these workers first toiled.


navvy (plural navvies)

  1. (Britain) a laborer on a civil engineering project such as a canal or railroad
    • 1909, B. Lindsay, Stories of the Universe: Animal Life
      Suppose two lads, fresh from school, go out into the world to earn their living; one becomes a navvy and one a clerk. In five years' time these two young men will probably be very different in appearance from one another. The navvy will have developed his muscles; he will be broad-built, broad-chested, and strong.
    • 1913, George Bernard Shaw, Pygmalion
      His proper trade's a navvy; and he works at it sometimes too—for exercise—and earns good money at it.


Related terms[edit]


navvy (third-person singular simple present navvies, present participle navvying, simple past and past participle navvied)

  1. (Britain, intransitive) To carry out physical labor on a civil engineering project.
    • 1974, Malcolm MacDonald, World From Rough Stones, 2013, unnumbered page,
      But by pretending to believe he's navvied before, I've given him double reason to drive himself hard.
    • 1978, John Shaw Neilson, The Autobiography of John Shaw Neilson, page 104,
      Before my time of navvying I believe the times were still worse.
    • 1995, F. R. Leavis, Ian Duncan MacKillop, Richard Storer (editors), F.R. Leavis: Essays and Documents, 2005, page 89,
      Three terms to use for George Eliot: the feminine imagination and sensibility; Intellect, the capacity for higher navvying; Intelligence.