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a unit of language, consisting of one or more spoken sounds or their written representation, that functions as a principal carrier of meaning. Words are composed of one or more morphemes and are either the smallest units susceptible of independent use or consist of two or three such units combined under certain linking conditions, as with the loss of primary accent that distinguishes black·bird· from black· bird·. Words are usually separated by spaces in writing, and are distinguished phonologically, as by accent, in many languages.
(used in combination with the first letter of an offensive or unmentionable word, the first letter being lowercase or uppercase, with or without a following hyphen):
My mom married at 20, and she mentions the m-word every time I meet someone she thinks is eligible.
See also f-word, n-word.

speech or talk: to express one’s emotion in words;
Words mean little when action is called for.
the text or lyrics of a song as distinguished from the music.
contentious or angry speech; a quarrel:
We had words and she walked out on me.

a short talk or conversation:
Marston, I’d like a word with you.
an expression or utterance:
a word of warning.
warrant, assurance, or promise:
I give you my word I’ll be there.
news; tidings; information:
We received word of his death.
a verbal signal, as a password, watchword, or countersign.
an authoritative utterance, or command:
His word was law.
Also called machine word. Computers. a string of bits, characters, or bytes treated as a single entity by a computer, particularly for numeric purposes.
(initial capital letter). Also called the Word, the Word of God.

the Scriptures; the Bible.
the Logos.
the message of the gospel of Christ.

a proverb or motto.
to express in words; select words to express; phrase:
to word a contract with great care.
at a word, in immediate response to an order or request; in an instant:
At a word they came to take the situation in hand.
be as good as one’s word, to hold to one’s promises.
eat one’s words, to retract one’s statement, especially with humility:
They predicted his failure, but he made them eat their words.
have a word, to talk briefly:
Tell your aunt that I would like to have a word with her.
have no words for, to be unable to describe:
She had no words for the sights she had witnessed.
in a word, in summary; in short:
In a word, there was no comparison.
Also, in one word.
in so many words, in unequivocal terms; explicitly:
She told them in so many words to get out.
keep one’s word, to fulfill one’s promise:
I said I’d meet the deadline, and I kept my word.
man of his word / woman of her word, a person who can be trusted to keep a promise; a reliable person.
(upon) my word!, (used as an exclamation of surprise or astonishment.)
of few words, laconic; taciturn:
a woman of few words but of profound thoughts.
of many words, talkative; loquacious; wordy:
a person of many words but of little wit.
put in a good word for, to speak favorably of; commend:
He put in a good word for her with the boss.
Also, put in a word for.
take one at one’s word, to take a statement to be literal and true.
take the words out of one’s mouth, to say exactly what another person was about to say.
weigh one’s words, to choose one’s words carefully in speaking or writing:
It was an important message, and he was weighing his words.
a word or phrase that has a specific or precise meaning within a given discipline or field and might have a different meaning in common usage:
Set is a term of art used by mathematicians, and burden of proof is a term of art used by lawyers.
Contemporary Examples

I mean I know the word “genius” is thrown around a lot, but he really is a comic genius.
Tony Hale Talks Return of ‘Veep,’ ‘Arrested Development’ & Being Weird Kevin Fallon April 10, 2013

I have found that super-productive days are usually followed by two and even three days when I can hardly write a word.
How I Write: Scott Spencer Noah Charney March 12, 2014

And he spares no word for George W. Bush or Condi Rice, either.
Obama’s Russia Reset a ‘Disaster’ Eli Lake October 25, 2011

The word “Carcosa,” which Chambers borrowed from Ambrose Bierce, and which later showed up in the works of H.P. Lovecraft.
How ‘True Detective’ Will End Andrew Romano March 2, 2014

God does not want a house built by man,” he said, “but faithfulness to His word, to His plan.
Pope Francis Puts a Ring on It: Video of the Inauguration The Daily Beast Video March 18, 2013

Historical Examples

He was not prepared with any answer, though he hotly resented every word of her accusation.
Within the Law Marvin Dana

That’s all gossip, you know; not a word of truth in it, and it’s been very annoying to us both.
The Spenders Harry Leon Wilson

You go ahead or I’ll shake it out of you one word at a time.
Cap’n Dan’s Daughter Joseph C. Lincoln

You have seen the Greek word “phone,” which means the voice, before.
Ancient Man Hendrik Willem van Loon

“Right’s the word, ould Nebucannezzar,” he cried, and heaved up to his feet.
The Manxman Hall Caine

one of the units of speech or writing that native speakers of a language usually regard as the smallest isolable meaningful element of the language, although linguists would analyse these further into morphemes related adjective lexical verbal
an instance of vocal intercourse; chat, talk, or discussion: to have a word with someone
an utterance or expression, esp a brief one: a word of greeting
news or information: he sent word that he would be late
a verbal signal for action; command: when I give the word, fire!
an undertaking or promise: I give you my word, he kept his word
an autocratic decree or utterance; order: his word must be obeyed
a watchword or slogan, as of a political party: the word now is “freedom”
(computing) a set of bits used to store, transmit, or operate upon an item of information in a computer, such as a program instruction
as good as one’s word, doing what one has undertaken or promised to do
at a word, at once
by word of mouth, orally rather than by written means
in a word, briefly or in short
my word!

an exclamation of surprise, annoyance, etc
(Austral) an exclamation of agreement

of one’s word, given to or noted for keeping one’s promises: I am a man of my word
put in a word for, put in a good word for, to make favourable mention of (someone); recommend
take someone at his word, take someone at her word, to assume that someone means, or will do, what he or she says: when he told her to go, she took him at his word and left
take someone’s word for it, to accept or believe what someone says
the last word

the closing remark of a conversation or argument, esp a remark that supposedly settles an issue
the latest or most fashionable design, make, or model: the last word in bikinis
the finest example (of some quality, condition, etc): the last word in luxury

the word, the proper or most fitting expression: cold is not the word for it, it’s freezing!
upon my word!

(archaic) on my honour
an exclamation of surprise, annoyance, etc

word for word

(of a report, transcription, etc) using exactly the same words as those employed in the situation being reported; verbatim
translated by substituting each word in the new text for each corresponding word in the original rather than by general sense

word of honour, a promise; oath
(modifier) of, relating to, or consisting of words: a word list
(transitive) to state in words, usually specially selected ones; phrase
(Austral, informal) (transitive) often foll by up. to inform or advise (a person)
noun the Word
(Christianity) the 2nd person of the Trinity
Scripture, the Bible, or the Gospels as embodying or representing divine revelation Often called the Word of God

Old English word “speech, talk, utterance, word,” from Proto-Germanic *wurdan (cf. Old Saxon, Old Frisian word, Dutch woord, Old High German, German wort, Old Norse orð, Gothic waurd), from PIE *were- “speak, say” (see verb).

The meaning “promise” was in Old English, as was the theological sense. In the plural, the meaning “verbal altercation” (as in to have words with someone) dates from mid-15c. Word processor first recorded 1973; word processing is from 1984; word wrap is from 1977. A word to the wise is from Latin phrase verbum sapienti satis est “a word to the wise is enough.” Word of mouth is recorded from 1550s.

It is dangerous to leave written that which is badly written. A chance word, upon paper, may destroy the world. Watch carefully and erase, while the power is still yours, I say to myself, for all that is put down, once it escapes, may rot its way into a thousand minds, the corn become a black smut, and all libraries, of necessity, be burned to the ground as a consequence. [William Carlos Williams, “Paterson”]


An exclamation of agreement and appreciation, used when someone has said something important or profound: If it’s really meaningful, ”Word, man, word” should be used (1980s+ Black teenagers)
word up

Related Terms

eat one’s words, fightin’ words, from the word go, weasel words, what’s the good word

Microsoft Word
A fundamental unit of storage in a computer. The size of a word in a particular computer architecture is one of its chief distinguishing characteristics.
The size of a word is usually the same as the width of the computer’s data bus so it is possible to read or write a word in a single operation. An instruction is usually one or more words long and a word can be used to hold a whole number of characters. These days, this nearly always means a whole number of bytes (eight bits), most often 32 or 64 bits. In the past when six bit character sets were used, a word might be a multiple of six bits, e.g. 24 bits (four characters) in the ICL 1900 series.

word for word
word of honor
word of mouth, by
word to the wise, a

In addition to the idioms beginning with


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