|The Artful Dodger as portrayed by the late Jack Wild|
Adjective. Early 17th century.
[from ART old & modern French from Latin art-, ars, from a base meaning 'put together, join, fit.' + -FUL]
1 Of a person, action, etc: skilful, clever, (arch); (passing into) crafty, deceitful. E17
2 Of person: learned, wise. obsolete. Only in 17
3 Of a thing: artificial, imitative, unreal. archaic E17
Artfully adverb E17; Artfulness noun E18
Artful is a wonderful word, and one that has been immortalised by Dickens' character Jack Dawkins, better known as Artful Dodger, from the classic tale of Victorian inequality Oliver Twist. Dawkins is a master child pickpocket and leader of Fagin's criminal gang. It isn't only his criminal skill and cunning that has won him an immortal place as one of literature's great minor characters; he is resourceful, charming and mischievous. He is, as his nickname suggests, artful in his nefarious deeds. He is a rogue and a chancer, wily and cunning. Regardless of the morality, this is part of the reason why a quality like artful somehow drifts into being a positive quality. Yes, it's dishonest, but it's dishonesty with refinement, skill and aplomb.