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shift +‎ -y



shifty (comparative shiftier, superlative shiftiest)

  1. Subject to frequent changes in direction.
    • 1929, Henry Handel Richardson, Ultima Thule, New York: Norton, Part 2, Chapter 3, p. 145,[2]
      Off he raced, shuffling his bare feet through the hot, dry, shifty sand.
    • 2002, Guy Vanderhaeghe, The Last Crossing, New York: Grove, Chapter 17, p. 190,[3]
      The Kelsos crowding their horses up against the wagon, bumping it, making things shake inside: everything going shifty, unsteady.
  2. (of a person's eyes) Moving from one object to another, not looking directly and steadily at the person with whom one is speaking.
    • 1886, George Manville Fenn, This Man’s Wife, Chapter 3, in Littel’s Living Age, Volume 168, No. 2178, 20 March, 1886, p. 761,[4]
      [] his quick, shifty eyes turned from the manager to the lethal weapons over the chimney, then to the safe, then to the bank, and Mr. Thickens’s back.
    • 1914, G. K. Chesterton, “The Head of Cæsar” in The Wisdom of Father Brown, London: Cassell, 1928, p. 149,[5]
      His tinted glasses were not really opaque, but of a blue kind common enough, nor were the eyes behind them shifty, but regarded me steadily.
    • 1993, Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy, Boston: Little, Brown, Chapter 1.4, p. 10,[6]
      He was thin, unsure of himself, sweet-natured and shifty-eyed; and he was Lata’s favourite.
  3. Having the appearance of being dishonest, criminal or unreliable.
    He was a shifty character in a seedy bar, and I checked my wallet was still there after talking to him.
    • 1999, J. M. Coetzee, Disgrace, New York: Viking, Chapter 23, p. 208,[7]
      ‘I don’t trust him,’ he goes on. ‘He is shifty. He is like a jackal sniffing around, looking for mischief. []
  4. Resourceful; full of, or ready with, shifts or expedients.[1]
    • 1857, Charles Kingsley, Two Years Ago, Cambridge: Macmillan, Volume 1, Chapter 1, p. 34,[8]
      Shifty and thrifty as old Greek or modern Scot, there were few things he could not invent, and perhaps nothing he could not endure.

Derived terms[edit]



  1. ^ Thomas Wright, Dictionary of Obsolete and Provincial English, London: Henry G. Bohn, Volume 2, p. 848: “Cunning; artful” (Craven [Yorkshire]).[1]