• navvy •
næ-vi • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. (British) A laborer employed to do physical labor in the excavation or construction of a road, railroad, or canal. 2. (British) Power shovel, construction equipment for digging.
Notes: Today's word is short for navigator, originally the slang name of a laborer employed to dig a canal. Now it is rarely used but when it is, it refers to road, railroad, or canal laborer. Don't forget to change the Y to I in the plural: navvies.
In Play: Although rare, the Oxford Dictionary has this citation from 1988: " Hundreds of them: navvies, asphalters, boys for the drains and the water, others to lay the electric and the gas." We can easily imagine others: "Bruno oversaw the construction of the tunnel, even though he had to work alongside the navvies."
Word History: Navvy is a shortening of navigator. Navigator, which usually refers to someone who plots the course of a ship or airliner, is the Latin word for "sailor". This word was derived from the past participle of navigare "to sail", which Latin created out of the PIE root nau- "boat" + ag- "to move or drive (forth)". The original form of nau- is visible in several English borrowings from Latin: nautical, nautilus, and nausea, originally "ship-sickness". The PIE root ag- is visible in hundreds of English words borrowed from Latin: act, action, agent. One borrowed from Greek stands out: synagoge. This was a Greek construction comprising syn- "(together) with + agein "to move, come, go" from ag-. This word was created by the Greek translators of the Old Testament to translate keneseth "assembly", in modern Hebrew Knesset. (Thanks to one of the constant gardeners of our word patch, George Kovac, for suggesting today's odd little Good Word.)
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