Shiv (weapon)

A shiv confiscated in a South African prison
Shivs hidden in a book, Hong Kong

Shiv, also chiv, schiv and shivvie, is a homemade knife-like weapon, especially one fashioned in prison. The word is almost certainly evolved from 17th-century "chive" (knife). The related verb shiv means "to stab someone", a shivver being a criminal who attacks victims with a knife.[1] An improvised prison knife is also often called a shank.


The word is prison slang for an improvised knife. A shiv can be anything from a glass shard with fabric wrapped around one end to form a handle, to a razor blade stuck in the end of a toothbrush.

In the 1950s, British criminal Billy Hill described his use of the shiv:

I was always careful to draw my knife down on the face, never across or upwards. Always down. So that if the knife slips you don't cut an artery. After all, chivving is chivving, but cutting an artery is usually murder. Only mugs do murder.[2]

In the Federal Bureau of Prisons, weapons, sharpened instruments, and knives are considered contraband and their possession is punishable as a greatest severity level prohibited act.[3]


  1. ^ Tom Dalzell (2009), "shiv; chiv; shivvie", The Routledge Dictionary of Modern American Slang and Unconventional English, p. 869
  2. ^ Campbell, Duncan (2008-07-30). "When crime grabbed the limelight". The Guardian, 30 July 2008. Retrieved on 2012-01-29 from
  3. ^ U.S. Dept of Justice (2011) "Inmate Discipline Program". Retrieved on 2017-05-29 from