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Perhaps from spiff, spiffy.

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.



spiv (plural spivs)

  1. (Britain, dated) A smartly dressed person who trades in illicit, black-market or stolen goods.
  2. (Britain, dated) A flashy con artist, often homeless, who lives by his wits.
  3. (Britain, dated) In Scotland Yard usage, a low and common thief.
  4. (Britain, dated) A slacker; one who shirks responsibility.


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Derived terms[edit]


  • "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.[1]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ "Cable in attack on bonuses for City 'spivs'", Gavin Stamp, BBC News, 2010-09-22