c. 1300, "wicked, base, cowardly," from Old North French caitive "captive, miserable" (Old French chaitif, 12c., Modern French chétif "puny, sickly, poor, weak"), from Latin captivus "caught, taken prisoner," from captus, past participle of capere "to take, hold, seize," from PIE root *kap- "to grasp." Its doublet, captive, is a later, scholarly borrowing of the same word. In most Romance languages, it has acquired a pejorative sense (Spanish cautivo, Italian cattivo).
c. 1300, "wicked man, scoundrel," from Anglo-French caitif, noun use of Old North French caitive (Old French chaitif) "captive, miserable" (see caitiff (adj.)). From mid-14c as "prisoner."
updated on September 20, 2017