1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Navvy

NAVVY, a labourer employed in the digging and excavating of earth, &c., in the construction of railways, docks, canals or other engineering operations. The word is a shortened form of “ navigator,” applied during the 18th and early part of the 19th centuries to a labourer at work on canals, to which the name “ navigation ” is often applied. Power-machines (excavators) for performing such work are consequently known as “ steam navvies.”