H. W. (Henry Watson) Fowler.

The concise Oxford dictionary of current English online

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The Concise

Oxford Dictionary

of Current English

Adapted by

Authors of 'The King's English'


The Oxford Dictionary



At the Clarendon Press









THE steady advance towards completion of the great Oxford
English Dictionary has made it possible for the Delegates of the
Clarendon Press to authorize the preparation and issue of this book,
which in its own province and on its own scale uses the materials and
follows the methods by which the Oxford editors have revolution-
ized lexicography. The book is designed as a dictionary, and not
as an encyclopaedia ; that is, the uses of words and phrases as such
are its subject matter, and it is concerned with giving information
about the things for which those words and phrases stand only so
far as correct use of the words depends upon knowledge of the
things. The degree of this dependence varies greatly with the
kind of word treated, the difference between cyclopaedic and dic-
tionary treatment varies with it, and the line of distinction is
accordingly a fluctuating and dubious one. It is to the endeavour to
discern and keep to this line that we attribute whatever peculiarities
we are conscious of in this dictionary as compared with others of the
same size. One of these peculiarities is the large amount of space
given to the common words that no one goes through the day with-
out using scores or hundreds of times, often disposed of in a line or
two on the ground that they are plain and simple and that every one
knows all about them by the light of nature, but in fact entangled
with other words in so many alliances and antipathies during their
perpetual knocking about the world that the idiomatic use of them
is far from easy ; chief among such words are the prepositions, the
conjunctions, the pronouns, and such ' simple ' nouns and verbs as
hand and way, go andpwf. Another peculiarity is the use, copious
for so small a dictionary, of illustrative sentences as a necessary
supplement to definition when a word has different senses between
which the distinction is fine, or when a definition is obscure and
unconvincing until exemplified ; these sentences often are, but still
more often are not, quotations from standard authors; they are
meant to establish the sense of the definition by appeal not to ex-
ternal authority, but to the reader's own consciousness, and there-
fore their source, even when authoritative, is not named. A third
and a fourth peculiarity are the direct results of the preceding ones ;
if common words are to be treated at length, and their uses to be
copiously illustrated, space must be saved both by the curtest

1 The remarks likely to be needed for reference on pronunciation, inflexion, &c, will
be found facing the letter A ; on the page before these remarks is a list of the abbrevia-
tions used in the Dictionary.



possible treatment of all that are either uncommon or fitter for the
encyclopaedia than the dictionary, and by the severest economy of
expression — amounting to the adoption of telegraphese — that readers
can be expected to put up with.

In attaching this great importance to illustration, by the need of
which the relative length of articles, and our manner of expressing
ourselves on every page, are governed, we are merely acting, with the
exaggeration imposed on us by our limited space, upon the principles
of the O.E.D. That may be said to be the first dictionary for which
the ideal procedure has been possible, that is, the approaching of
each article with an open mind and a collection of examples large
enough to be exhaustive, and the extraction from these of classified
senses — the first dictionary, to put it another way, in which quota-
tions have served not merely to adorn or convince, but as the
indispensable raw material. This procedure — first the collection of
sentences from all possible sources as raw material, and then the
independent classification — we have often followed even in that
part of our book (A — R) in which the O.E.D. , with senses already
classified and definitions provided, was before us, treating its articles
rather as quarries to be drawn upon than as structures to be repro-
duced in little ; and in the later part (S — Z), where we had no longer
the O.E.D. to depend upon, it has been our practice still more often;
for many of the more difficult (i.e. especially the common and
4 simple ') words, we have collected the quotations given in the best
modern dictionaries (the Imperial, the Century, the Standard,
Cassell's Encyclopaedic, Webster, &c), added to these what we
could get either from other external sources or from our own heads,
and then framed our articles, often without reference to the arrange-
ment that we found in any of our authorities. Proceeding in this
manner, it was almost inevitable that we should be very much alive
to the inadequacy of mere definition and the need of constant illus-
tration. That our examples have some general tendency to the
colloquial, and include many usages for which room has not been
found in dictionaries many times as large as this, is in harmony
with our design of on the one hand restricting ourselves for the
most part to current English, and on the other hand omitting
nothing to which that description may fairly be applied.


The words, or senses of words, given are meant to be such only
as are current ; ' current ', however, is an elastic term ; we might,
but we do not, stretch it to include all words and senses used by
Shakspere or in the Bible, on the ground that the whole of Shak-
spere and the whole of the Bible are still commonly read ; thus the


archaic senses of addition (title), buxom (pliant), owe (own), sad
(serious), sort (suit), and the archaic words shend (scold), wood
(mad), familiar as they are to readers of Elizabethan literature, are
not given. We do stretch it to include many words and senses that
are fossilized, having in themselves no life or capacity for further
development, but kept extant by being enshrined in perhaps a single
proverb or phrase that is still in use ; of this sort are coil (confusion),
preserved by 'shuffled off this mortal coil', and scotch (wound),
preserved by ' we have scotched the snake, not killed it '.

Again, of the many thousands of old or new scientific and
technical terms that have a limited currency some are carried by
accident into the main stream of the language and become known
temporarily or permanently, vaguely or precisely, to all ordinarily
well-informed members of the modern newspaper-reading public.
For the purposes of a dictionary that is not to be bulky and yet is to
give a fuller treatment than is usual in dictionaries of its size to the
undoubtedly current words forming the staple of the language,
selection among these intruders is a difficult but very necessary
task. The most that can be hoped for is that every one conversant
with any special vocabulary may consider us, though sadly deficient
on his subject, fairly copious on others ; the meaning of many
learned words that have been omitted as having no pretence to
general currency may easily be gathered by reference first to the
stem, which is often the subject of an article, or to another word of
which the stem is clearly the same, and secondly to the suffix.

In another class of words and senses the test of currency has led
us to diverge in the opposite direction from the practice usual in
dictionaries of this size ; if we give fewer scientific and technical
terms, we admit colloquial, facetious, slang, and vulgar expressions
with freedom, merely attaching a cautionary label ; when a well-
established usage of this kind is omitted, it is not because we
consider it beneath the dignity of lexicography to record it, but
because, not being recorded in the dictionaries from which our
word-list is necessarily compiled, it has escaped our notice ; we have
not, however, consulted slang dictionaries nor made any attempt at
completeness in this respect.


The spelling adopted is for the most part, but not invariably, that
of the O.E.D. For instance, the verbs that contain the suffix -ize
(which see), and their derivatives in -ization &c, are all given
without the alternative forms in -ise &c, although these are still
the commoner in British (as opposed to American) printing ; but
such generally established spellings as judgment, rhyme, axe, have


not been excluded in favour of the judgement, rime, ax, preferred by
the O.E.D., but are retained at least as alternatives having the right
to exist. In dealing with verbs such as level, rivet, bias, whose
parts and derivatives are variously spelt, the final consonant being
often doubled with no phonetic or other significance, we have as far
as possible fallen in with the present tendency, which is to drop the
useless letter, but stopped short of recognizing forms that at present
strike every reader as Americanisms; thus we write riveted, riveter,
but not traveling, traveler. On another point of varying usage —
the insertion of a mute e in derivatives in -able, -age, -ish, &c, to
indicate the 'long' sound of the stem vowel (likable or likeable,
milage or mileage, latish or lateish) — we have thought ourselves
justified in taking a bolder line, and have consistently omitted the
-e- ; it is against all analogy (or why not smileing, Romeish, doteage,
tideal, indescribeable, desireable, exciteable ?), it is used chiefly in
words not familiar or important enough to have their form respected
as established, it obscures the different and more valuable use by
which a soft g or c is indicated as in manageable and serviceable, and
it tempts bad spellers to such monstrosities as unpalateable, loveable,
and moveable. In words of the type ardour, colour, favour, where
the O.E.D. recognizes both -our and -or, we have excluded the
latter as being (except in particular words like horror and torpor, in
which it is usually the only form) entirely non- British. Words in
which -y- has intruded itself without completely dispossessing a
more correct -i-, as sylvan, tyro, tyre, we have given with the -i-
form either alone or placed first. In stating the plural of words in
-o, we have found it impossible to draw any satisfactory line
between the words that prefer -os and those that prefer -oes ; it may
perhaps be laid down that on the one hand words of which the
plural is very commonly used, as potato, have almost invariably
-oes, and on the other hand words still felt to be foreign or of
abnormal form, as soprano, chromo for chromolithograph, have
almost invariably -os ; of many other words it may be said with
confidence that they use one form only (cf . punctilios, noes) ; but
the majority fluctuate, and we have not seen our way to doing
otherwise. We have also to admit that after trying hard at an
early stage to arrive at some principle that should teach us when to
separate, when to hyphen, and when to unite the parts of com-
pound words, we had to abandon the attempt as hopeless, and
welter in the prevailing chaos.



When the pronunciation of a word is not sufficiently determined
by the placing of the stress-mark or by vowel quantities, further
information follows in round brackets. The phonetic values of the
letters employed in these, and the use of the stress-mark, are
explained on the page facing the letter A.

Derivatives are to be understood, unless the contraiy is indicated,
as following the pronunciation of the main word under which they
are given or to which they are referred in the etymological note.

The pronunciation of many words is omitted on the assumption
that the reader is already familiar with the normal values of some
letters and combinations. The hard sounds of th and s, and the
sounds of c (s) and g (3) before i, e, and y, are recorded only for
special purposes; a vowel that is short before two consonants or
a single final consonant, or long before a single consonant followed
by e mute, is not usually marked; and the pronunciation of the
suffix -ation (-ashn) and of the a in path &c. (-ah-, -a-) is not given.

To some suffixes no less familiar than -ation pronunciation is
added in view of certain ignorant or pedantic tendencies. The
pleasant fiction that cottage is pronounced kotaj, though still pre-
valent in dictionaries, has perhaps never deceived any one; but
we have all heard furniture (-tur), knowledge (no-), and often (-t-).
Against these and other results of the undue influence of spelling
warnings are freely given.

In the choice or rejection of alternative pronunciations the O.E.D.
has always been consulted, but is not always followed.


From the order in which the senses of a word are here given no
inference must be drawn as to their historical or other relations, the
arrangement being freely varied according to the requirements or
possibilities of the particular word. Sense- development cannot
always be convincingly presented without abundant quotation from
authorities, and the historical order is further precluded by the
uniform omission of obsolete senses. Occasionally, when a rare but
still current sense throws light on the commoner senses that follow
or forms the connecting link with the etymology, it has been placed
at the beginning ; but more commonly the order adopted has been
that of logical connexion or of comparative familiarity or im-



Etymology is given in square brackets at the 3nd of each article.

Words of Teutonic origin are illustrated by all or some of the
forms found in cognate languages. With words that have passed
through several languages on their way to English, the forms taken
in successive languages are recorded in full, with the following
exceptions. (1) When OF or the like at the beginning of the etymo-
logy is not followed by the old French form written in full, it is
because the latter is identical in spelling with the English or differs
from it only in some unimportant detail specified in brackets.
(2) The Latin form of a Greek word is usually omitted, and is to be
inferred according to the rules of transliteration given below. Thus
(under pleonasm) ' f . L f . Gk pleonasmos ' is to be read ' f . L
pleonasmus f. Gk pleonasmos\ A similar omission of a word in
any other language implies absolute identity of form.

Greek words are written with the corresponding English letters
($> X' +> Pi pp\=P n > kh, ps, rh, rrh, and a, tj, w,=ai, ei, 6i), and not
according to the Latin transliteration, the rules for which are as
follows: Greek k= Latin c; ai=ae; ou=u; u (exc. in diphthongs)
= y ; ei = i or e ; oi = oe (but in nom. pi. = i) ; g (before g or k) = n ; also,
-6s (nom. masc), -6n,=±-us, -um; -es, -e, (1st decl. nom.)=-a; -on
(nom.)=-o; -6s (genit.) = -is; -a (accus. sing. masc. or fern. ) = -em.

French nouns of Latin origin are with few exceptions derived
from the Latin accusative ; but the Latin nominative is here given
except when (e.g. in words in -atio) a change of stress is involved.

Greek i\ (e) and w (6), and the e of Latin infinitives of 2nd conj.
(-ere, -eri), are regularly marked long. The accented letters (a, sb,
&c.) in forms quoted from Old English or other Teutonic languages
are long.

F, G, &c, must not be taken to imply that the word to which
they are prefixed is current, or is so spelt, in the modern language ;
nor does it follow from a word's being given as OF that it is obsolete.

The etymology often contains references in small capitals to
words and suffixes.

Hence introduces one or more of the direct derivatives of the word
treated ; whence introduces such derivatives under a particular sense
to which they are restricted ; so introduces words derived from
another language ; hence or cogn. , whence or cogn. , introduce groups
of partly English and partly foreign derivation. The suffixes of
such derivatives are commonly printed in small capitals, and are
thus referred to the suffix article in its alphabetical place. The
numbers enclosed in brackets indicate subdivisions of the suffix


article, and are often used to distinguish among the possible senses
of the derivative word those in which it is chiefly current.

The first element of a Latin or other compound word is .often
referred to a prefix article, and the remainder treated separately
within brackets; meanings given within the bracket belong to the
simple word, those of the compound being added if necessaiy outside
it. Thus convene is [f. F convenir f. L C0T$(venire vent- come)
assemble, agree, fit]. The stem vent- and the senses agree, fit, are
here added for the purposes of convention and convenience, which
are referred to convene. The first element of a Greek compound
similarly treated is sometimes written according to the current
(Latin) transliteration, to facilitate reference to the prefix article;
Greek kakoepeia, under cacoepy, accordingly appears as CACO{epeia).
Certain similar devices for saving needless repetition will, it is
believed, explain themselves.

The etymology of all words from A to R was drawn in the first
instance from the O.E.D., but was occasionally modified after
reference to Prof. Skeat's Etymological Dictionary (Clarendon
Press, 4th edition, 1910). From S to Z Prof. Skeat's work has
been our main authority, the Century and other dictionaries being
consulted for the words that he omits.


The use of small capitals for etymological purposes is explained
In the same way reference is made

(1) from the word treated to another word for the purpose of
contrast, distinction, correlation, or the like. Of this kind are the
references from slander to libel and scandal, from creationism to
evolution and vice versa, and from tenon to mortise and vice versa.

(2) from any member of a group to the word under which the
group is collected or further explained. Ruby (print.) is in this
way referred to type ; order (nat. hist.) to class 1 ; and the iron 1 ,
golden, and silver ages to brazen \

(3) from one or more words of a proverb or the like to that under
which alone the proverb is explained. Play l and drake 2 contain
such references to duck l , flesh and herring to fish \

(4) from a compound of the word treated to its other component
for explanation. The sign ( = ) prefixed to such a reference indicates
that the simple word treated is itself used in the sense of the com-
pound. Thus, under pie 1 , sea-pie is merely referred (sea.-j>.) to sea,
but magpie, besides being referred to the article magpie, is recorded
(= magpie) as one of the senses of pie.



In any article, when the word treated in it is to be quoted or
mentioned, its initial letter followed by a period is used instead
of the whole word ; this stands only for the exact form that heads
the article ; e.g., in the verb love, I. means love (verb or noun),
but not loving, loved, &c. ; the plural of nouns is represented by
doubling the letter ; e.g., in extreme, nut, ee., nn., mean extremes,
nuts ; in the part of an article obviously restricted to a derivative
the letter may stand for that derivative ; e.g., representation, given
in the article represent, is followed by a bracket in which r. stands
not for represent, but for representation ; in the part of an article
restricted to a compound, the hyphened initials of the two parts are
used ; e.g., when in doing ground-floor under the article ground the
phrase get in on the ground-floor is to be explained in a bracket,
g.-f. is used for ground-floor.

Of other abbreviations, a list including all that are not either too
obvious to need explanation or generally current (and accordingly
to be found in the abbreviation lists given in the first article of each
letter of the alphabet) follows on the opposite page. In this list,
three points require mention : (1) the appending of &c. means that
the abbreviation stands for derivatives or inflexions as well as for
the simple word given ; e.g., metaphor &c. means metaphor, meta-
phorical, or metaphorically ; explain &c. means explain, explains,
explained, explaining, or explanation ; this system is used also with
abbreviations omitted as obvious ; thus adv. stands not only for
adverb, but also for adverbial and adverbially ; (2) abbreviations of
nouns, such as ex. (example), prep, (preposition), are often used
with the last letter doubled (exx.,prepp.) as plurals ; it has not been
thought necessary to give these plural forms except in one-letter
abbreviations (aa., nn.); similar plurals occur for forms that have
been omitted as obvious iadjj. for adjectives &c); (3) abbreviations
given in the list with initial capital have always the capital in use ;
but those given with initial small letter have either form according
to circumstances ; similarly, though the list is all in Roman type,
the abbreviations are sometimes for reasons not affecting their sense
printed in italics.

June, 1911


a., adjective
aa., adjectives
abl., ablative
abs., absolute &c.
ace, according, accusative
AF, Anglo-French
alch., alchemy &c.
alius., allusive &c.
anal., analogy &c.
ant., antiquities
arch., architecture &c.
Ass., Assyrian
assim., assimilate &c.
assoc, associated &c.
astr(on)., astronomy &c.
astrol., astrology &c.
attrib., attributive &c.
augment., augmentative

b., born

back-form., back-formation

bibl., biblical &c.

Boh., Bohemian

Bret., Breton

c, century, circiter

cc, centuries

cl., classical

cogn., cognate

colloq., colloquial &c.

comb., combination &c.

comp., composition, com-

compd, compound

compl., complement

compp., compounds

conj., conjunction, conju-

conn., connect &c.

constr., construct &c.

contr., contraction &c.

cop., copulative

Corn., Cornish

correl., correlative &c.

d., died

Da., Danish

dat., dative

deriv., derivative &c.

dial., dialectal

d iff., different

different., differentiate &c.

dim., diminutive &c.

dissim., dissimilate &c.

Du., Dutch

dub., dubious

E, English

eccl., ecclesiastical &c.
ellipt., elliptical &c.
erron., erroneously
eth., ethics &c.
etym., etymology &c.
euphem., euphemism &c.
ex., example
exag., exaggeration &c.
exc, except

excl., exclusive &c., excla-
mation &c.
expl., explain &c.
expr., expressing &c.

F, French
f., from

facet., facetious &c.

fig., figurative &c.

foil., (the) following (word)

found., founding

Fr., French

freq(uent)., frequentative

Fris., Frisian

G, German

gen., general &c, genitive

Gk, Greek

gr., grammar &c.

Hind., Hindi, Hindustani
hist., history, historical &c.
hort., horticulture &c.

i., intransitive
imit., imitative &c.
ind., indicative, indirect
inf., infinitive
inn., influence &c.
instr., instrumental (case)
int., interjection
intr., intransitive

joe, jocose &c.

L, Latin

LG, Low German
lit., literal, literally
LL, late Latin

ME, middle English (1200-

med., medicine &c.
mcd. L, medieval Latin
mctaph., metaphor &c.
MHG, middle high German
min., mineralogy

n., noun

neg., negative &c.

nn., nouns

nom., nominative

N.T., New Testament

num., numeral

O, old (with languages)

obj., object &c.

obs., obsolete

occ(as)., occasional &c.

OHG, old high German

ON, old Norse

ONF, old northern French

opp., (as) opposed (to)

opt., optics &c.

ord., ordinary

orig., origin &c.

O.T., Old Testament

part., present participle
partie, participial
path., pathology &c,
phr., phrase
pi., plural
Pol., Polish
pol., politics &c.
pop., popular &c

p.p., past or passive parti-

Pr., Proven ;iA

pr., pronounce &c.

prec, (the) preceding (word).

pred., predicate &c.

pref., prefix

prep., preposition

pres., present

prob., probable 8r.c.

pron., pronoun &c, pro-
nounce &c.

prop., proper, properly

pros., prosody &c.

Pro v., Provencal

pro v., proverb &e, pro-
vincial &c.

R.-C, Roman-Catholic
ref., reference
refash., refashioned &c

Online LibraryH. W. (Henry Watson) FowlerThe concise Oxford dictionary of current English → online text (page 1 of 305)