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[pen-nahyf] /ˈpɛnˌnaɪf/
noun, plural penknives.
a small pocketknife, formerly one used for making and sharpening quill pens.
Origin of penknife
late Middle English
1400-50; late Middle English; see pen1, knife Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for penknife
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • "I have got a sharper knife," said he, drawing his penknife out of his pocket.

    The Teacher Jacob Abbott
  • Deftly twirling the penknife, Bethune bored a neat hole in the leather.

    The Gold Girl James B. Hendryx
  • What he learned of farming in that week might have been balanced on the point of a penknife and puffed off.

  • "This gentleman had a penknife under his pillow," he explained.

    A Sheaf of Corn Mary E. Mann
  • He pulled a penknife out of his pocket and laid it on a chair open.

    The Golden Butterfly Walter Besant
  • He produced a cigar and cut the end off with his penknife, and lit it deliberately.

  • Yes, my old friend, this is the hand, this is the arm that drove the penknife to his heart.

    Amelia Henry Fielding
  • He had been known to lend his penknife to Sissy, but that was when she was ailing long ago.

    The Madigans Miriam Michelson
  • I found it myself, and I cut away enough of the bark growth with a penknife for it to show clearly.

    The Sword of Antietam Joseph A. Altsheler
British Dictionary definitions for penknife


noun (pl) -knives
a small knife with one or more blades that fold into the handle; pocketknife
Word Origin
C15: so called because it was originally used for making and repairing quill pens
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for penknife

early 15c., from pen (n.1) + knife (n.). So called because such small knives were used to sharpen quills.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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