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The word "caitiff" meaning Webster's sense 2 (Base; wicked and mean; cowardly; despicable) comes from the medieval Latin phrase "Captivus diaboli", that is "Prisoner of the devil". This phrase was used to address heretics, assassins, excommunicates, prostitutes and other people ruled out of the civil society.

This meaning has passed to some neo-Latin languages like Italian where the word cattivo does not have the correct Latin meaning of prisoner but rather of an evil person as first meaning.