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Posted by R. Berg on August 19, 2003

In Reply to: "Navvy" (not sure about spelling) posted by Doris on August 19, 2003

: I've heard that the word "Navvy" meaning manual worker, comes from Navigator - the men who worked on the North American Railroad. I have a feeling that the word is older than that. Can any of you knowledgeable ones enlighten me please?

: Doris

The Oxford English Dictionary says it comes from one sense of "navigator," defined as "a labourer employed in the work of excavating and constructing a canal, or, in later use, in any similar kind of earthwork." Earliest citation for this sense of "navigator" is dated 1775; for "navvy," 1832.

And "navigator" with that meaning comes from "navigation," which once meant "a canal or other artificial waterway. Now dial[ectal]" (OED).