In Reply to: Wide boy posted by Gary Martin on June 23, 2008 at 08:36:
: : : : I am curious about the derivation of the British term 'wide boy' in the sense of a latter day spiv.
: : : This term was lodged in my memory as relating to the wide-lapelled 'teddy-boy' suits, favoured by spivs, like the Flash Harry character that George Cole played in the St. Trinians films.
: : : Apparently not. The OED lists one of the slang meanings of 'wide' as:
: : : "Wide-awake, cute; shrewd, sharp-witted; (dishonestly) cunning or knowledgeable; skilled in sharp practice; engaging in shady dealings."
: : : and puts that as the source of 'wide boy'.
: : What is a spiv?
: Sorry, I didn't realize that word hadn't travelled. Spivs are small-time crooks, who live on their wits - not quite breaking the law but bending it as far as it will go. They are usually stereotyped as wearing sharp suits, hence the speculation that 'spiv' derives from 'spiffy' (smart).
Actually, none of those words have travelled. Nor have I managed to see a St. Trinian's film and only heard about them recently. I looked all of the terms up and am slightly enlightened. At least I no longer think teddy-boy refers to Sebastian in Brideshead Revisited.
I have watched "Only Fools and Horses" and always felt like I wasn't quite getting it - I'm guessing because the brothers fit some sort of "archetype" that automatically makes some things funny (like cops eating donuts).