Definition of navvy in US English:



  • A laborer employed in the excavation and construction of a road, railroad, or canal.

    • ‘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.’
    • ‘I would like to whizz down but I keep getting my hair caught so I have to stop, swearing like a navvy as I disentangle it.’
    • ‘From 1907 he lived in Paris, where after working as a porter on the Métro, a navvy, and a docker, he took a night job in a printing establishment so that he could paint during the day.’
    • ‘Increased Irish emigration to Britain during the 1940s supplied navvies, nurses, clerks, policemen and munition workers.’
    • ‘The first railways were built entirely by hand labour by teams of navvies.’
    • ‘Prodigious quantities of soil were excavated manually by navvies, and moved with the aid of nothing more than horse-drawn tip wagons.’
    • ‘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 heavy work of building was done by men who became known as navvies.’
    • ‘The men were generally employed as unskilled hands in foundries, chemical works, and in the shipyards and as navvies and general labourers.’
    • ‘To create a market, they invented rum, and sold it to sailors and navvies.’
    • ‘On the alluvial flats of the Cook Inlet a tented camp was pitched to billet the navvies.’
    • ‘When the Bishop has been here long enough, he will realise that Bradford was built with non-Conformist money, the Irish navvy and an army of desperately poor Britons.’
    • ‘He was a navvy and had been employed at the new railway which was in the course of construction between Sheffield and Rotherham.’
    • ‘Brunel, who was known as a workaholic, oversaw the construction of the tunnel and was even known to get down and supervise digging amongst the navvies.’
    • ‘Hulton said that when the pipes were laid in the ground nine years before he was told navvies were hard workers, hard drinkers, hard swearers, and hard kickers, but he did not believe it.’
    • ‘Norway's 3-2 win had everyone in Scotland cussing like navvies.’
    • ‘These people are, in the main, the navvies who helped to build up post-war England.’
    • ‘But women are more interested in the other stuff: the swimming-pool blue eyes, the boxer's nose, the tight, tattooed body that reminds you of a cross between a navvy and a Russian ballet dancer.’
    • ‘That same day a fatal railway accident occurred when more than a hundred navvies returned from their Christmas break in Adelaide.’
    • ‘In the course of excavating the Manchester and Bolton Railway in the late 1830s, navvies unearthed large numbers of fossilised trees.’
    workman, worker, working man, hand, manual worker, unskilled worker, blue-collar worker, hired hand, hired man, roustabout, labouring man, drudge, menial
    labourer, day labourer, manual worker, workman, worker, digger, hand, roustabout
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Early 19th century: abbreviation of navigator (which was formerly also used in this sense).