Spiv was the nickname of Henry Bagster, a Londoner arrested a number of times in 1904-6 for activities as described below, and may have been the archetype. Also possibly from Romani spiv, a sparrow as active and opportunistic.
spiv (plural spivs)
- (Britain) A smartly dressed person who trades in illicit, black-market or stolen goods.
- (Britain, dated) A flashy con artist, often homeless, who lives by his wits.
- (Britain, dated) In Scotland Yard usage, a low and common thief.
- (Britain, dated) A slacker; one who shirks responsibility.
- "I make no apology for attacking spivs and gamblers who did more harm to the British economy than [transport union leader] Bob Crow could achieve in his wildest Trotskyite fantasies, while paying themselves outrageous bonuses underwritten by the taxpayer." -- Vince Cable on the banking system.
- "spiv" at World Wide Words Michael Quinion, 2001