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free or released from fastening or attachment:
a loose end.
free from anything that binds or restrains; unfettered:
loose cats prowling around in alleyways at night.
uncombined, as a chemical element.
not bound together:
to wear one’s hair loose.
not put up in a package or other container:
loose mushrooms.
available for disposal; unused; unappropriated:
loose funds.
lacking in reticence or power of restraint:
a loose tongue.
lax, as the bowels.
lacking moral restraint or integrity; notorious for his loose character.
sexually promiscuous or immoral; unchaste.
not firm, taut, or rigid:
a loose tooth; a loose rein.
relaxed or limber in nature:
He runs with a loose, open stride.
not fitting closely or tightly:
a loose sweater.
not close or compact in structure or arrangement; having spaces between the parts; open:
a loose weave.
having few restraining factors between associated constituents and allowing ample freedom for independent action:
a loose federation of city-states.
not cohering:
loose sand.
not strict, exact, or precise:
a loose interpretation of the law.

having the players on a team positioned at fairly wide intervals, as in a football formation.
(of a ball, hockey puck, etc.) not in the possession of either team; out of player control.

in a loose manner; loosely (usually used in combination):
to let loose; free from bonds or restraint.
to release, as from constraint, obligation, or penalty.
Chiefly Nautical. to set free from fastening or attachment:
to loose a boat from its moorings.
to unfasten, undo, or untie, as a bond, fetter, or knot.
to shoot; discharge; let fly:
to loose missiles at the invaders.
to make less tight; slacken or relax.
to render less firmly fixed; lessen an attachment; loosen.
to let go a hold.
to hoist anchor; get under way.
to shoot or let fly an arrow, bullet, etc. (often followed by off):
to loose off at a flock of ducks.
Obsolete. to become loose; loosen.
break loose, to free oneself; escape:
The convicts broke loose.
cast loose,

to loosen or unfasten, as a ship from a mooring.
to send forth; set adrift or free:
He was cast loose at an early age to make his own way in the world.

cut loose,

to release from domination or control.
to become free, independent, etc.
to revel without restraint:
After the rodeo they headed into town to cut loose.

hang / stay loose, Slang. to remain relaxed and unperturbed.
let loose,

to free or become free.
to yield; give way:
The guardrail let loose and we very nearly plunged over the edge.

on the loose,

free; unconfined, as, especially, an escaped convict or circus animal.
behaving in an unrestrained or dissolute way:
a bachelor on the loose.

turn loose, to release or free, as from confinement:
The teacher turned the children loose after the class.
Contemporary Examples

When Diana called for an international ban, seven months before she died, a Tory minister accused her of being a “loose cannon”.

At present, however, those criminals are on the loose—and almost certainly planning their next big score.
Somalia’s Hostage: Judith Tebbutt Is Home—But How Free? Margot Kiser March 29, 2012

According to Bissonnette, bin Laden was wearing a sleeveless white T-shirt, loose tan pants, and a tan tunic.
SEALs Book on Raid to Kill Osama Contradicts Administration’s Version in Several Key Spots The Daily Beast August 28, 2012

Eman Galal, a 26-year-old English teacher is veiled and dressed in loose fitting clothes.
Egyptian Military Police Beating a Female Protestor Produces Fury and an Apology Sarah A. Topol December 20, 2011

Wales fostered a loose system of collective management, in which he played guide and gentle prodder but not boss.
You Can Look It Up: The Wikipedia Story Walter Isaacson October 18, 2014

Historical Examples

His necktie was loose, and had twisted to one side in the struggle.
Trent’s Trust and Other Stories Bret Harte

Their outburst of melody is like a brook let loose from wintry chains.
Buds and Bird Voices (From “Mosses From An Old Manse”) Nathaniel Hawthorne

loose my dumpling too; And butter’d toasts and woodcocks?Mar.
The Mirror of Taste, and Dramatic Censor, Vol. I, No. 4, April 1810 Various

And yet it was a coward’s blow, and one to stir the blood and loose the tongue of the most peaceful.
The White Company Arthur Conan Doyle

He thinks he’ll play fast and loose with me; he thinks he’ll leave me in the lurch—does he?
The Cruise of the Make-Believes Tom Gallon

free or released from confinement or restraint
not close, compact, or tight in structure or arrangement
not fitted or fitting closely: loose clothing is cooler
not bundled, packaged, fastened, or put in a container: loose nails
inexact; imprecise: a loose translation
(of funds, cash, etc) not allocated or locked away; readily available

(esp of women) promiscuous or easy
(of attitudes, ways of life, etc) immoral or dissolute

lacking a sense of responsibility or propriety: loose talk

(of the bowels) emptying easily, esp excessively; lax
(of a cough) accompanied by phlegm, mucus, etc

(of a dye or dyed article) fading as a result of washing; not fast
(informal, mainly US & Canadian) very relaxed; easy
(rugby) the loose, the part of play when the forwards close round the ball in a ruck or loose scrum See scrum
on the loose

free from confinement or restraint
(informal) on a spree


in a loose manner; loosely
(in combination): loose-fitting

(informal, mainly US) hang loose, to behave in a relaxed, easy fashion
(transitive) to set free or release, as from confinement, restraint, or obligation
(transitive) to unfasten or untie
to make or become less strict, tight, firmly attached, compact, etc
when intr, often foll by off. to let fly (a bullet, arrow, or other missile)

early 13c., “not securely fixed;” c.1300, “unbound,” from Old Norse lauss “loose, free, vacant, dissolute,” cognate with Old English leas “devoid of, false, feigned, incorrect,” from Proto-Germanic *lausaz (cf. Danish løs “loose, untied,” Swedish lös “loose, movable, detached,” Middle Dutch, German los “loose, free,” Gothic laus “empty, vain”), from PIE *leu- “to loosen, divide, cut apart” (see lose). Meaning “not clinging, slack” is mid-15c. Meaning “not bundled” is late 15c. Sense of “unchaste, immoral” is recorded from late 15c. Meaning “at liberty, free from obligation” is 1550s. Sense of “rambling, disconnected” is from 1680s. Figurative sense of loose cannon was in use by 1896, probably from celebrated image in a popular story by Hugo:

You can reason with a bull dog, astonish a bull, fascinate a boa, frighten a tiger, soften a lion; no resource with such a monster as a loose cannon. You cannot kill it, it is dead; and at the same time it lives. It lives with a sinister life which comes from the infinite. It is moved by the ship, which is moved by the sea, which is moved by the wind. This exterminator is a plaything. [Victor Hugo, “Ninety Three”]

Loose end in reference to something unfinished, undecided, unguarded is from 1540s; to be at loose ends is from 1807. Phrase on the loose “free, unrestrained” is from 1749 (upon the loose).


early 13c, “to set free,” from loose (adj.). Meaning “to undo, untie, unfasten” is 14c. Related: Loosed; loosing.


Relaxed; easy; cool: No wonder you guys were really loose/ You are loose in the rush, misty and safe (1950s+ Cool talk)
Sexually promiscuous (1595+)

Related Terms

all hell broke loose, hang loose, a screw loose

loose cannon
loose ends


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