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A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue (up to 1700)

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First published 1963 (DOST Vol. III).
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

Knave, Knafe, Knaif, n. Also: knav, knaw(e; knaive, knaiwe; knev(e, kneav(e, -w(e; knaf; knaiff, -fe, knayf(f; kneff; kneif, kneaff; kniffe. [ME. knave, cnave, also knaffe (1481), OE. cnafa.]

1. A man-child, a boy.Only in early verse. 1375 Barb. i. 288.
He had a sone, a litill knave, That wes than bot a litill page
a1400 Leg. S. xvi. 362.
Grant ws … a barne to hafe, Othire a madyne or a knaf
Ib. xxvi. 1026, xxx. 558. c1420 Wynt. vi. 1248.
Syne we ar lyk na barne till hawe, Nothir madyn child, na knawe [v.rr. knaif, knayff]
c1475 Wall. ii. 273.
Hyr dochtir had of xij wokkis ald a knayff
a1500 Rauf C. 113.
Twa cant knaifis of his awin haistelie he bad

2. A lad or man acting as an attendant or personal servant, a man-servant, a groom; also, a serving-man or menial more generally.In Alex. rendering F. garçon.(a) 1375 Barb. xv. 339.
With knawis [C. knavis] and swanys that na mycht Had for to stand in feld and fycht
c1475 Wall. iii. 213.
The Inglis knawis thai gart thar caryage leid To Clidis forest
a1500 Colk. Sow ii. 181.
Syne knavis ourcome thame with a crye
?a1500 Rosw. & Lillian 203.
This oath he made to the false knight: He the master, and he the knave
c1500-c1512 Dunb. xiv. 56.
Sic knavis and crakkaris to play at cartis and dyce
1540 Lynd. Sat. 1944 (B).
Quhat say ȝe, be thir court knavis?
a1568 Bann. MS. 157 b/1.
The nyne ordour of knavis
a1598 Ferg. Prov. (1641) No. 245.
Earlie maister, lang knave
(b) 1375 Barb. ix. 375* (C).
Hors and knafis all left he Fer fra the toun
(c 1580) Alex. i. 494.
Gif I ȝeid [in] this message As sould ane knaif do, or ane page
Ib. II. 10848.
The King is entred … With princes … mony ane; Thair hors than hes thair knaiffis tane
c1500-c1512 Dunb. l. 43.
He wald have maid him Curris knaiff [M. kneff], I pray God better his honour saiff
1535 Stewart 49785.
That multitude Of bairdis and boyis, and knaifis makand cummer, And carriage men
Ib. 59199.
Ane Scottis knaif that wes within the place
c1536 Lynd. Compl. Bagsche 168.
He sittis abone that seis all thing, And of ane knicht can make ane knaif
a1568 Bann. MS. 64 a/2.
Sen every knaif wes cled in silkin weid
Ib. 243 b/63.
To be hir knaif I am contenttit Or smallest varlet in hir chammer
1570 Sempill Sat. P. xii. 15.
Ane traitour … Possest in purpois, lyfe for lyfe to cose, Bot na compair, ane kings sone to ane knaif

b. Standing for this rank of society, esp. in the tags knicht & knave, knave & knicht. Chiefly in early verse.(1) 1375 Barb. iii. 585.
All war doand, knycht and knawe
c1420 Wynt. v. 3737.
The kyrk … That comowne is to knawe and knycht
1461 Liber Plusc. 396.
Justice makis riche … Bath king and knaif, knycht, clergy and common
a1500 Gol. & Gaw. 1010.
At Crist with credence thai craif, Knight, squyar and knaif
c1475 Wall. vii. 448.
Gat nane away, knaiff, capitane, nor knycht
a1570-86 Maitl. F. cxviii. 5.
Knychtis and knavis cled in lyke clething
(2) 1375 Barb. viii. 508 (E).
The constabill and all the laiff That war tharin, bath man and knaw [C. knaf], He tuk … And sent them hame
(3) c1420 Wynt. vii. 3599.
Yhwmen, powere karlor knawe That wes off mycht an ox til hawe
Ib. (C).
Ȝomen, pure, riche and knayf
Ib. (W).
To pure husband, clerk and knaif

3. a. A tradesman's lad. b. Keiching-knaif, a kitchenboy.a. 14.. Acts I. 333/2.
At thai [baxters] hald seruandis in thar ouynis ma than the law leffis … that is to say the master ij seruandis and a knaf [Balfour knaive; L. garcionem] … Thai aw to tak … for the knaf a ferthing
b. c1536 Lynd. Compl. Bagsche 154.
I tuke na mair compt of ane lord Nor I did of ane keiching knaif

c. The ‘knave’ or assistant in a mill = Miln-knave. 1628 Glasgow B. Rec. I. 368.
The haill mylnes … to be servit be ane myller and ane knave … allanerlie … and the myller to sustein his knave vpoun his bonok

4. transf. a.? A basin-stand. (See J. Warrack Domestic Life in Scotland, 1488-1688, (1920), 154-5). b. Some blacksmith's implement or object made by a blacksmith.a. 1646 Edinb. Test. LXII. 68 b.
Ane towall pin with ane knave of aik
1650 Dunferm. Reg. III. in Rogers Social Life I. 384.
The standard of ane bassone called the knaive
b. 1608 Hilderstoun Silver Mines MS. I. 218.
To Johne Dryf ane smyth at the mynes for ane knaif of irne weying thrie pund half pund at iij s. iiij d. the pund

5. A mean and crafty rascal, a rogue, a scoundrel. Applied only to men. A common term of abuse.(a) a1508 Kennedy Flyt. 254 (M).
Put I nocht sylence to thé, schiphird knave
c1500-c1512 Dunb. xxviii. 39.
In Hevin ȝe salbe sanctis full cleir, Thocht ȝe be knavis in this cuntre
1540 Lynd. Sat. 1634.
Thair came thrie knaues in cleithing counterfeit
a1568 Pedder C. 3.
This … genolagie Off pedder knavis
a1568 Bann. MS. 158a/29.
Ay lichtand and pischeand the knave cumis behind
1569-73 Bann. Memor. 183.
The ministeris [were] called proud knavis, with other injurious wordis, be the lordis
1602 Shetland Sheriff Ct. 29.
Calling Patrik Kinnaird, merchand, ane brokkare and ane fals knawe
1609 Crim. Trials III. 41.
The lord Maxuell him self come and cryed: Fals knave, oppin the yett!
1614 Highland P. III. 163.
Thair is also a Scotisch knaw whom (wpon wrang informatione) I admittit to the ministere in Iyrland
1625 Dunferm. B. Rec. II. 148.
Fra bying any salt in tyme coming fra any vaiging knaves … quha steall the saim
1698 S. Ronaldshay 71.
[It] is a calumny, that he calls any of them villans, knavs &c.
(b) 15.. Clar. iv. 1452.
Ȝit schope I never no wicht for to deceave, Sike longis to ane harlot or ane knaive
c1590 J. Stewart 61/156.
False smatchet smaik, knaiwe, loune, loud liar still
1700 Stitchill Baron Ct. 145.
Calling him knaive and raskeil
(c) 1569-73 Bann. Memor. 91.
Hence kneavis, and go tell that whoure your maistres, sho sall nocht come heir
1600–1 State P. (Reg. H.) No. 108/10. 17.
Quhair away kneave with that trie
Ib. 20.
1649 St. A. Baxter Bks. 119.
Saying … to the said William … ȝe ar bot a kneaw
1652 Inverness Presb. 237.
[He] confessed to call Mr Jon Mccra a lyare, ȝit refuses the calling of him a kneve
Ib. 238.
Knev and lyar
1662 St. A. Baxter Bks. 129.
Haueing callit the said Jon … ane fals, perjurit kneaw
(d) c1460 Alex. (Taym.) 2256.
He suld him hing ... As a knaife ane rever and ane theife
1513 Doug. viii. Prol. 43.
The cadgyar … Calland the colȝar a knafe and culron
a1500 Peblis to Play 165.
He said, Quhair is ȝon culroun knaif?
1561 Crim. Trials I. i. 417.
Thou arte ane verray knaif, and thi doctrin is verray false
a1568 Bann. MS. 157 b/14.
For to be ane verry knaif that shrew schapis evir
1558-66 Knox I. 39.
Preastis not onlie receave false miracles, bot also thei … feis knaiffis for that purpoise
Ib. 47.
Where ar thei knaiffis that have brought me this tale?
a1585 Maitl. Q. lxii. 60.
You trowit McGill that drunking knaif
1577 Inverness Rec. I. 259.
Calling of the … membris of curt as knaiffis, lownes, theiffes, sneikis
1613 Conv. Burghs II. 429.
Giff … the merchants … call any ane vther ane knaif or lowne
1664 Rothesay B. Rec. 78.
[Calling him] ane thowsand knaiffs
1666 Ib. 126.(e) 1622 Elgin Rec. II. 174.
[He] wald nocht lat him sitt doun and said … Will thow sitt on my knie, kneaff?
1623 Ib. 180.
That Alexander … callit him kneif
1689 Hawick Ann. 91.
Robert Wright, one of the … bailies, was but ane basse kniffe

b. A woman's lover or ‘fancy man’. 1560 Rolland Seven S. 1276.
Sine like ane knaif he wald defoulit my bed
Ib. 3220.
Scho … cheisit ane vther knaif With hir to play
Ib. 8224.
Micht thow na way stancheit thy foull nature With my bodie, and with thy rebald knaif
Ib. 10679.

c. To play the knaif with (one). c1540 Lynd. Kitteis Conf. 93.
And swa with vs thay play the knaif
1635 Fraser-Mackintosh Lett. Two Cent. 35.
James Innes hes plaid the knaiff with me

6. In proverbs and proverbial expressions.(1) 1584-9 Maxwall Commonpl. Bk. fol. 17 b.
The greittare ane dycere be of the craft, he is the greittare knaife
a1598 Ferg. Prov. MS. No. 984.
Let alone macks many ane knave
a1628 Carmichael Prov. No. 219.
A thrawart knaive is ane evill nybour
Ib. No. 559.
Gife the King be a knicht, the Pape is a knave
Ib. No. 580.(2) a1598 Ferg. Prov. MS. No. 1097.]
[No knave to the learned knave
1584 Sempill Sat. P. xlv. 743.
Gif ye his preiching could persave, My maister is a lerned knaif
1597 James VI Daemonol. 21.
Being so learned a knaue as he is

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"Knave n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 18 May 2024 <>



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