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The Collaborative International Dictionary

Caitiff \Cai"tiff\, a. [OE. caitif, cheitif, captive, miserable, OF. caitif, chaitif, captive, mean, wretched, F. ch['e]tif, fr. L. captivus captive, fr. capere to take, akin to E. heave. See Heave, and cf. Captive.]

  1. Captive; wretched; unfortunate. [Obs.]

  2. Base; wicked and mean; cowardly; despicable.

    Arnold had sped his caitiff flight.
    --W. Irving.


Caitiff \Cai"tiff\, n. A captive; a prisoner. [Obs.]

Avarice doth tyrannize over her caitiff and slave.

2. A wretched or unfortunate man. [Obs.]

3. A mean, despicable person; one whose character meanness and wickedness meet.

Note: The deep-felt conviction of men that slavery breaks down the moral character . . . speaks out with . . . distinctness in the change of meaning which caitiff has undergone signifying as it now does, one of a base, abject disposition, while there was a time when it had nothing of this in it.

Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

c.1300, "wicked, base, cowardly," from Old North French caitive "captive, miserable" (Old French chaitif, 12c., Modern French chétif "puny, sickly, poor, weak"), from Latin captivum (see captive, which was a later, scholarly borrowing of the same word). In most Romance languages, it has acquired a pejorative sense.


c.1300, "wicked man, scoundrel," from Anglo-French caitif, noun use from Old North French caitive "captive, miserable" (see caitiff (adj.)). From mid-14c as "prisoner."


a. Especially despicable; cowardly n. 1 A base or despicable person; a wretch 2 (context obsolete English) a captive or prisoner, particularly a galley slave 3 (context archaic English) a villain, a coward or wretch

  1. adj. despicably mean and cowardly

  2. n. a cowardly and despicable person


Caitiff (literally a despicable coward or wretch) may mean:

  • a galley-slave in a Barbary bagnio
  • a Camarilla clanless character in Vampire: The Masquerade
  • The Caitiff Choir, an album released by the band It Dies Today
  • Lancelot Slays the Caitiff Knight Sir Tarquin, a painting by Frank Cadogan Cowper

Usage examples of "caitiff".

Her eloquent sighs and sobs soon told the caitiff he had nothing to fear.

I should have liked to have interrogated that caitiff while his gay doublet was yet besmirched with sand.

Thus she came to the Mill, and her palfrey was spent, and there she took refuge, beseeching Martimor that he would hide her, and defend her from those caitiff knights that must soon follow.

If there was a God more powerful than the sea, and only half as good as men are, he would pity my poor Rosa and me, and send a hurricane to drive those caitiffs back to the wretch they have abandoned.

I did it but to show these ignorant, prejudiced knaves how they might help each other when these cowardly caitiffs come against us with sarbacanes and poisoned shafts.

For a day or two, spirits and segars muddled his brain, and so kept thoughts away: but within a while they came on him too piercingly, and Julian writhed beneath those scorpion stings of hot and keen remorse: and when the coast-guards dragged the Mullet, how that caitiff trembled!

Emperor, and the Emperor, notwithstanding his brave words about a truceless war, seemed willing to pay the caitiff his price.

Therefore, in salute to Lord Bartholeme, we take to ourself these swans as a sign of lasting triumph against all caitiff enemies of our crown!

Earl is a coward that feareth to befriend me, or else he is a caitiff, ashamed of his own flesh and blood, and of me, the son of his one-time comrade.

Her eloquent sighs and sobs soon told the caitiff he had nothing to fear.

In the meantime, the caitiff minister had reached his manse, and found a ghastly loneliness awaiting him--oh, how much deeper than that of the woman he had forsaken!

Earl a mean-hearted caitiff to leave me, the son of his one-time friend and kinsman, thus to stand or to fall alone among strangers and in a strange place without once stretching me a helping hand?

Shame on the coward, caitiff hands That smote their Lord or with a kiss Betrayed him to the rabble-rout Of fawning priests--no friends of his.

Ay, miscreant caitiff, you would have made me a subject for science, would you?

In those too poor caitiffs she had all that her heart had been hungering for: simple hearts that understood her sorrow, loyal souls that never wavered.