Alteration of save, sabi (“know”) (in English-based creoles and pidgins), from Portuguese or Spanish sabe (“[she/he] knows”), or from Catalan savi (“wise, very learned”) from saber (“to know”), from Latin sapere (“taste, know”).
1785, as a noun, “practical sense, intelligence”; also a verb, “to know, to understand”; West Indies pidgin borrowing of Catalan savi (“wise or knowlegeable”), Portuguese (ele) sabe (“he knows”), French savez(-vous) (“do you know”), or Spanish (usted) sabe (“you know”), all from the same Latin source (see also sapient). The adjective is first recorded 1905, from the noun. Savvy is phonetically more consistent with savi in Catalan or sabe in Portuguese, than sabe in Spanish or savez in French. Gramatically as well, savi in Catalan is both a noun and an adjective, while sabe and savez are just verb conjugations for he/she knows and you know, respectively.
- (informal) Shrewd, well-informed and perceptive.
- 2012 March 22, Scott Tobias, “The Hunger Games”, in AV Club:
- That such a safe adaptation could come of The Hunger Games speaks more to the trilogy’s commercial ascent than the book’s actual content, which is audacious and savvy in its dark calculations.
Chinese Pidgin English
- to know
- 1860, The Englishman in China, London: Saunders, Otley, and Co., page 44:
- My no sarby.
- I don’t know.
- to understand
- Gow, W. S. P. (1924) Gow’s Guide to Shanghai, 1924: A Complete, Concise and Accurate Handbook of the City and District, Especially Compiled for the Use of Tourists and Commercial Visitors to the Far East, Shanghai, page 108: “Savvy: (Portuguese) know; understand; No savvy ? Do you not understand ?”