Definition of penknife in US English:



  • A small pocketknife with a blade that folds into the handle.

    • ‘I took the rucksack off and managed to unzip the top pocket with one hand to get the penknife out.’
    • ‘Pulling out a small penknife from her pocket, she opened it and pushed the thin blade into the small gap at the bottom of the window.’
    • ‘All penknives, soft drink bottles and Thermoses were confiscated, but demonstrators were allowed to keep their banners and leaflets.’
    • ‘We took our penknives and made two right angle cuts down through the nose of a hollow point to encourage its expansion by ‘pre-splitting’ the bullet into four parts.’
    • ‘The contestants are not allowed mobile phones, radios, reading material, watches, matches, penknives, food, cigarettes, alcohol or toiletries.’
    • ‘A sharp implement (a penknife or small screwdriver blade) driven into the timber would have had little resistance on entry or removal.’
    • ‘Whenever I travel to non-Western countries for business, I take a few good quality penknives as gifts.’
    • ‘Recently my brother was boarding a plane to Spain when he found he'd forgotten to remove a heavy-duty penknife from his pocket (he's apt to do that sort of thing).’
    • ‘We all had penknives and managed not to either stab each other or ourselves.’
    • ‘The masonry is so finely worked that a penknife blade cannot be fitted into the cracks, and windows or niches are trapezoid to counteract gravity in a quake.’
    • ‘The mother said her daughter had still not been able to repeat to her family what the boy said to her as he held the penknife blade against the skin of her throat.’
    • ‘Taking a penknife from his combat belt he flicked out the knife and prised out the device.’
    • ‘The stash he keeps in his pockets include string, a penknife, matches, a chunk of crystal, a broken watch, a whistle, and countless other things.’
    • ‘The washbag should only contain absolute musts and with the current climate no scissors, razor blades, penknives, etc unless you want them confiscated.’
    • ‘The man drew out a switchblade the size of a penknife.’
    • ‘We now take all sharp objects off passengers, and have trays of scissors, penknives and bottle-openers by the end of each shift.’
    • ‘The common window latch can be opened from the outside with a butter knife and just five seconds; the screens require a penknife and an additional five seconds.’
    • ‘Some people do happen to have things like penknives in their pocket when they come into court.’
    • ‘We all know the costs associated with our airports now; there are massive numbers of security staff, and there is screening of all passengers, with people losing their penknives, manicure scissors, and all those sorts of things.’
    • ‘The property ranges from penknives to wedding rings to money to bracelets and cameras.’


Late Middle English: so named because it was originally used for making and mending quill pens.