The dictionaries don't agree on whether savvy comes from French or Spanish, via creole/pidgin. Is it known which language is the origin and where the word specifically first entered English?

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    – BillJ
    Jan 23, 2017 at 10:09
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    Portuguese sabe has also been mentioned as a possible etymon. Jan 23, 2017 at 11:19

2 Answers 2


The word is currently recorded as a noun, adjective, and verb in my copy of the OED. It seems the noun is the oldest form.

Full credit to EtymOnline for this one:

savvy (n.) 1785, "practical sense, intelligence;" also a verb, "to know, to understand;" West Indies pidgin borrowing of French savez(-vous)? "do you know?" or Spanish sabe (usted) "you know," both from Vulgar Latin *sapere, from Latin sapere "be wise, be knowing" (see sapient). The adjective is first recorded 1905, from the noun. Related: Savvily; savviness.


According to The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D. it is from Spanish, modern use is influenced by French:

  • [fr West Indian pidgin fr Spanish sabe usted, ''do you know?''; modern use influenced by French savez, ''you know'']

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