Definition of navvy in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈnavi/

noun (plural navvies)

British dated
A labourer employed in the excavation and construction of a road, railway, or canal.
Example sentences
  • Over the decade which followed, it spread to every section of the working class-miners, iron workers, canal navvies, wool and cotton operatives, builders, seamen, land workers.
  • The British inland waterway system, flourishing in the early nineteenth century, was staffed by a large body of bargees who, like the railway navvies, earned an unenviable reputation for roughness.
  • He was a navvy and had been employed at the new railway which was in the course of construction between Sheffield and Rotherham.


Early 19th century: abbreviation of navigator (which was formerly also used in this sense).

  • A navvy is a labourer employed in building a road or railway. The word is a 19th-century shortening of navigator (late 16th century), which in the 18th century was a labourer employed in the rapidly expanding enterprise of canal construction (in parts of England a canal is known as a navigation). Navigate comes from the Latin word for ship, navis, which gave rise to navy (Late Middle English), and also, because of its shape, to the nave (late 17th century) or long central part of a church. The ultimate root of navis is the Greek word for ship, naus ( see nausea).

Words that rhyme with navvy


For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: navvy

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