Early history is obscure: app. in local and colloquial use long before it became a general literary word. A single example of cliver is known in Middle English., but the word has not been found again till the 16th century., and it appears not to have been in general use till the close of the [17th, since Sir Thos. Browne specially mentions it as East Anglian, and Ray explains it among his dialect words. Outside Eng., Koolman gives EFris. clüfer (from clifer), clever, skilful, alert, ready, nimble, and klöver, klever is used in same sense at Ribe Stift in Jutland (Molbech). The early example suggests relation to Middle English. clivers ‘claws, talons, clutches’, in the sense ‘nimble of claws, sharp to seize’, and the 16-17th c. examples (also of cleverly) show it connected with the use of the hands, a notion which still remains in the general sense of adroit, dexterous, having ‘the brain in the hand’. Cf. also CLEVERUS. Clever appears to have come into general use about the time that deliver, formerly used in the sense ‘expert’, became obsolete, but there is no trace of any influence of the one upon the other. The sense-development has analogies with that of nimble, adroit, handy, handsome, nice, neat, clean.
- Date: circa 1595
- b : mentally quick and resourceful <a clever young lawyer>
- b : easy to use or handle