Shiv (weapon)

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A shiv confiscated in a South African prison
Shivs hidden in a book, Hong Kong

A shiv, also chiv, schiv, and shivvie, is a homemade knife-like weapon, especially one fashioned in prison. The word is possibly derived from the 1670s underworld cant word for "knife," chive. Other sources list the Romani word for the same object, chivomengro, as a more likely origin.[1] The derived verb, shiv means "to stab someone", a shivver being the criminal who attacks victims with a knife.[2] A knife improvised in prison is also often called a shank.


The word is prison slang for an improvised knife. The word generally applies to both stabbing and edged weapons. A shiv can be anything from a glass shard with fabric wrapped around one end to form a handle, to a razor blade stuck in the end of a toothbrush, to a simple toothbrush handle, filed into a sharp point.

In the 1950s, British criminal Billy Hill described his use of the shiv:

I was always careful to draw my knife down on the face, never across or upwards. Always down. So that if the knife slips you don't cut an artery. After all, chivving is chivving, but cutting an artery is usually murder. Only mugs do murder.[3]

In the Federal Bureau of Prisons, weapons, sharpened instruments, and knives are considered contraband and their possession is punishable as a highest severity-level prohibited act.[4]


  1. ^ "shiv | Origin and meaning of shiv by Online Etymology Dictionary". Retrieved 3 August 2020.
  2. ^ Tom Dalzell (2009), "shiv; chiv; shivvie", The Routledge Dictionary of Modern American Slang and Unconventional English, p. 869
  3. ^ Campbell, Duncan (29 July 2008). "Billy Hill biography remembers one of Britain's best known gangsters" – via
  4. ^ "Inmate discipline program" (PDF). Retrieved 9 June 2020.