In this post I try to find an answer to the age-old question: what—if any—is the difference between a shiv and a shank?
I briefly discussed the matter with Benjamin Dreyer, copy chief at Random House.
I thought, sure, that was it. End of.
Alas, that was not the case.
I felt slightly disheartened after reading 'Difference between shiv and shank'1; from the blog post:
Shiv is a word that can be both a noun, as well as a verb. As a noun, it refers to a knife or, still better, a slang term for a knife. As a verb, it refers to the act of stabbing someone with a sharp object. The word has origins in the gypsy tribes of Romania and Moldova that used such objects. If you are derisive or taunting someone, you can say that he used a Shiv to cut the rope. Of course, you said it as he did not make use of a proper knife to cut the rope.
Shank is a term that is used for anything that looks or works like a knife. It is a slang term for this kind of a homemade knife. It may not even be metallic to be labeled a shank. You can call a shard of glass with a cloth tied at one end as a shank.
What is the difference between Shiv and Shank?
- Both Shiv and shank are slang terms for objects that look or work like knives.
- Shiv is often used to refer to weapon like objects made by prisoners.
- The word Shiv comes from the gypsies of Romania who used them for a knife-like object.
So, that site says shiv and shank are not the same.
Oz TV Wiki2 states shiv and shank are the same.
What to believe?
'Shiv vs. Shank'3 contains the most in-depth analysis that I have found:
In modern slang, the two are most often used interchangeably, in much the same way that the nouns “cemetery” and “graveyard” are used to describe a place of rest for the dead. The amalgamated origins behind the use of the term “shiv”, combined with a verbal evolution which freely alternates between the two has led to a wholly confused usage in the modern American dialect. Despite the seemingly interchangeable properties of the terms, the heart of their differences lies in the definitions. A “shiv” is defined as a knife. A knife, in turn, is defined as “an instrument for cutting, consisting essentially of a thin, sharp-edged, metal blade fitted with a handle.” Thus, through transitive logic, a shiv is an instrument designed for cutting or slicing in the same fashion as a knife.
Despite the seemingly interchangeable properties of the terms, the heart of their differences lies in the definitions. A 'shiv' is defined as a knife. A knife, in turn, is defined as 'an instrument for cutting, consisting essentially of a thin, sharp-edged, metal blade fitted with a handle.' Thus, through transitive logic, a shiv is an instrument designed for cutting or slicing in the same fashion as a knife.
Given the previous description of items related to the noun 'shank' (those being items which taper from large to small), it becomes clear that the noun 'shank' more specifically refers to an elongated item which tapers to a point and is thus is primarily used for stabbing. Similarly, 'to shiv' translates as 'to slice' or 'to knife' while 'to shank' correlates with 'to stab.'
Hence, the author differs a shiv from a shank depending on use:
So, a makeshift weapon that is made to cut is a shiv. A makeshift weapon that is made to stab is a shank.
I’m not sure that this is the end of it. Anybody could, potentially, use a cutting tool to both cut and stab. If I had to wager a guess, I'd say shiv and shank are most often used interchangeably.
I’ve only heard the words on American prison-based TV-series and only read them in prison- and gang-related text, and then, both a shank and a shiv are makeshift and made by use of crude materials.
Regardless of vernacular, you should think about these things, especially before you opt to shiv or shank someone.
“Difference Between Shiv And Shank” 2013. Differencebetween.Com. July 3, 2013. https://web.archive.org/web/20220808060213/https://www.differencebetween.com/difference-between-shiv-and-vs-shank/. ↩
“Shiv.” n.d. Oz TV Wiki. Accessed August 8, 2022. https://web.archive.org/web/20220808060558/https://oztv.fandom.com/wiki/Shiv. ↩
McQueen, Ulysses. 2012. “Shiv vs. Shank.” Teratology. November 29, 2012. https://web.archive.org/web/20220808060837/https://ulyssesmcqueen.blogspot.com/2012/11/shiv-vs-shank.html. ↩