Thanks for the helpful discussion of n-means and nn-means. Speranza
requested OED [reality?] check. Here are entries for, 'mean',
'signify', 'sign' and 'significs'.
[Cognate with Old Frisian mna to signify, Middle Dutch mnen to intend,
signify, think, hold a good opinion of, love (Dutch menen to intend,
think), Old Saxon mnian to intend, signify, have in mind, mention
(Middle Low German mnen, meinen to intend, signify, hold an (esp. good)
opinion of, love, German regional (Low German) menen to intend, signify,
be of the opinion, think), Old High German meinen to intend, signify,
make known, mention, have in mind (Middle High German meinen to intend,
signify, have in mind, hold an opinion of, love, German meinen to
intend, have in mind, think, say, (poet.) love), all ult. < a Germanic
base cognate with Old Church Slavonic mniti to suppose, think, consider,
have in mind, mention (this word exhibits an extraordinarily close
parallelism of meaning with the Old English and Old Saxon verbs). The
Scandinavian forms, Icelandic meina, Old Swedish mena (Swedish mena),
Danish mene, all in sense to intend, signify, consider, are prob.
borrowings from Middle Low German. From the same Germanic base are
derived the following nouns: Old Frisian mne opinion, intention, Old
High German meina, prob. orig. in sense opinion, but only attested in
phrases (as thia meina, b thia meina truly, really), and prob. also
(with a different ablaut grade) Old Frisian minne, Middle Dutch minne
(Dutch min), Old Saxon minnia, minnea (Middle Low German minne), Old
High German minna (Middle High German minne), all in sense love,
affection, agreement. The further etymology and the order of
sense-development are uncertain (see also note below); prob. < the
Indo-European base of I-MENE a. (which might suggest the original sense
to express opinions alternately or by turns); a connection with the
Indo-European base of MIND n.1 has also been suggested, but this is
difficult to explain phonologically.
In Old English the prefixed form gemnan to say, mention, is also
common (cf. Old Saxon gimnian to have dealings with, announce, Old High
German gimeinen to have dealings with, share, communicate with, declare
(Middle High German gemeinen to have dealings with, share, communicate
with), Gothic gamainjan to share, defile). Cf. also BEMEAN v.1
Branches I-IV are paralleled among the cognate verbs found in the
other Germanic languages, but branches V and VI are not closely
paralleled outside English. However, Branch V is paralleled in Middle
English by the verb MIN v.2, the basic sense of which is remember. Th=
two verbs frequently occur in Middle English textual families as variant
readings in this sense (for examples of this variation, see e.g. Middle
Eng. Dict. s.v. menen v.(1), sense 4). Since MIN v.2 is attested earlier
than this branch of mean it is possible that it influenced the latter
semantically. (Branch III of this verb, attested in Old English, may in
turn have influenced MIN v.2 5, which dates from the 14th cent.)
Influence of the rare verb MIN v.1 on branch VI is also possible.]
I. To intend.
1. trans. a. To have as one's purpose or intention; to intend. In
later use also: to be resolved or determined on. Also with clause as
object (obs.). Now somewhat arch. exc. in to mean mischief, to mean no
harm, and to mean business (see BUSINESS n. 13c).
eOE ÆLFRED tr. Boethius De Consol. Philos. (Otho) xxxviii. 118 Gif he
ara nan nyte, onne nat he hwæt he mæn. eOE ÆLFRED tr. Boethius De
Consol. Philos. (Otho) xxxix. 128 a ongan he sprecan swie fiorran
ymbutan, swelce he na a spræce ne mænde, & tiohhode hit eah iderweardes=
c1330 Gregorius (Auch.) 133 an alon sche left er inne; Non wist what
sche ment. a1425 (c1385) CHAUCER Troilus & Criseyde II. 581 Sith ye woot
that myn entent is cleene, Take heede therof, for I non yvel meene.
a1450 York Plays 290 A! mercy, lorde, mekely, no malice we mente. 1583
P. STUBBES Anat. Abuses II. sig. B6v, The Cocatrice neuer meaneth so
much crueltie, as when he fawneth vpon thee, and weepeth. a1604 M.
HANMER Chron. in J. Ware Hist. Ireland (1633) 114 And murther the poore
and seely people, which God wot, meant no harme. 1612 BACON Ess. (new
ed.) 100 Except they meane their seruice should bee made but the
accessary. 1673 Lady's Call. I. ii. 12 Nature..never meant a serene and
clear forehead should be the frontispiece to a cloudy tempestuous heart.
1692 DRYDEN Cleomenes II. i. 11 Thou art only, Misplanted in a base
degenerate Soil; But Nature when she made thee, meant a Spartan. 1728 J.
GAY Beggar's Opera II. iv. 25 Pardon me, Madam, I meant no harm by the
Question. 1732 G. BERKELEY Alciphron I. I. iii. 14 A poor half-witted
Man that means no mischief. 1771 H. MACKENZIE Man of Feeling 254, I do
not mean attempting to thank you;..let me but know what name I shall
place here. 1791 A. RADCLIFFE Romance of Forest II. x. 89, I meant no
harm. 1831 New Eng. Mag. Sept. 234 He has had the foolhardy audacity to
show his ugly face..meaning no harm of course, as he pretends. 1851 N.
HAWTHORNE House of Seven Gables viii. 130, I meant no harm! Since he is
really my cousin, I would have let him kiss me, if I could! 1882
Harper's Mag. Nov. 936/2 A gleam in his eye which showed that he meant
mischief. 1891 W. MORRIS News from Nowhere xxvii. 206, I do not suppose
she meant a trap for me, but anyhow I fell into it. 1891 J. NEWMAN
Scamping Tricks vi. 46, I saw they were started on the road of mutual
admiration, and travelling pretty, and that he meant calling again. 1904
A. GRIFFITHS Fifty Years Public Service ii. 22 Even to my young and
inexperienced eyes it seemed that the attack [on the Redan] was never
meant. 1906 U. SINCLAIR Jungle xvii. 196 The crowd had already given
Jurgis a namethey called him the stinker. This was cruel, but they
meant no harm by it. 1991 W. TREVOR Reading Turgenev in Two Lives
(1992) i. 1 They mean no harm; they are not against her; in their
confusion they become carried away.
b. With infinitive as object: to intend or be determined to do
c1330 (?a1300) Arthour & Merlin (Auch.) 7089 Segremor, no his fer, No
mit flen..& hadden ment hem to eld. a1393 GOWER Confessio Amantis
(Fairf.) I. 15 That is love, of which I mene To trete. c1400 (?a1300)
King Alexander (Laud) 5932 oo had kyng Alisaunder yment..e cee haue
ypassed aein. ?a1475 Ludus Coventriae 171 Cruel knyghtys i childe haue
ment with swerde to sle. 1560 J. DAUS tr. J. Sleidane Comm. 70b, The
Duke of Saxon, and the Lantgrave,..ment to go home. 1567 in J. H. Burton
Reg. Privy Council Scotl. (1877) 1st Ser. I. 515 Hir Majestie menit to
subvert the lawis. 1617 F. MORYSON Itinerary I. 40 These
cut-throates..meant presently to returne. 1749 H. FIELDING Tom Jones
III. IX. vi. 358, I did not mean to abuse the Cloth. 1773 O. GOLDSMITH
She stoops to Conquer IV. 71 You only mean to banter me? 1822
Blackwood's Mag. 12 783, I do not mean to say that they are plagiarized.
1845 W. NAPIER Conquest Scinde II. viii. 455 The Beloochs certainly
meaned to break out with a counter attack. 1895 SIR A. KEKEWICH in Law
Times Rep. 73 663/2 We must not jump to the conclusion that the
Legislature meant to interfere with contracts. 1941 J. RHYS Let. 1 Mar.
(1984) 35, I didn't mean to be rude last Wednesday. 1987 F. WYNDHAM
Other Garden viii. 96, I quite forgot to take out a dog licence for
himor rather I kept on meaning to but just never got round to it.
2. intr. With well, ill, etc.: to have intentions or a general
disposition of the kind indicated (now often implying that such
intentions are unfulfilled in practice). Also with to, by, or with
a1375 William of Palerne 1819 It were a botles bale, but beter haue i
ment. c1385 CHAUCER Knight's Tale 2287 To hym that meneth wel, it were
no charge. a1425 (c1385) CHAUCER Troilus & Criseyde III. 164 Bysechyng
hym..at he Wolde..eke menen wel to me. 1440 Promp. Parv. (Harl. 221) 332
Menyn yn herte, wel or evyl, intendo. a1450 (c1412) T. HOCCLEVE De
Regimine Principum (Harl.) 1986 But how I speke, algate I mene weel.
a1500 tr. De Imitatione Christi (Trin. Dub.) 13 We do wel & mene wel.
a1592 R. GREENE Frier Bacon (1594) sig. C4, Now shall Edward trie, How
Lacie meaneth to his soueraigne lord. a1616 SHAKESPEARE Twel. N. (1623)
IV. iii. 22 If you meane well Now go with me. 1628 J. EARLE
Micro-cosmogr. xiv. sig. D2, He..puts himselfe to a great deale of
affliction to hinder their plots, and designes where they meane freely.
a1680 S. BUTLER Genuine Remains (1759) I. 58 The purest Business of our
Zeal Is but to err, by meaning well. 1719 D. DEFOE Robinson Crusoe II.
257 You seem to mean honestly. 1771 Junius Lett. (1820) xlv. 243 They
who object to [his] last letter, either do not mean him fairly, or
[etc.]. 1802 T. BEDDOES Hygëia II. 34 The projector of a new domestic
medicine, meaning well by himself and the public. 1813 J. AUSTEN Pride &
Prejudice III. v. 108 Perhaps she meant well, but, under such a
misfortune as this, one cannot see too little of one's neighbours. 1884
H. R. HAGGARD Dawn ii, I do not think that your cousin means kindly by
you. 1910 R. BROOKE Let. 9 Jan. (1968) 206 He is a silly man... Yet he
means well. 1973 S. B. JACKMAN Guns covered with Flowers x. 159 He
smiled apologetically, He means well. Stevens grinned. And you can=
say worse than that about anyone. 1987 D. ROWE Beyond Fear iii. 106
They were merely human, and being so, prone to mistakes, like meaning
well and getting it wrong.
3. trans. a. Usu. in pass. To design (a thing) for a definite
purpose; to intend or predestine (a person or thing) to have a
particular future, fate, nature, or use. With against, for, to, unto, or
(occas.) indirect object. In quot. 1639 with complement: to predestine
to be (obs.).
a1500 (a1375) Octavian (Calig.) 1953 e old empresse..hadde e same
jugement, at sche to Florance hadde yment. 1560 J. DAUS tr. J. Sleidane
Comm. 242b, This warre is not ment nor prepared against the Cyties. 1580
SIR P. SIDNEY tr. Psalmes David XXVII. v, When greate griefes to me be
ment, In tabernacle his, he will Hide me. 1611 Bible (A.V.): Gen. l. 20
God meant it vnto good. 1634 MILTON Comus 765 She [sc. Nature] good
cateress Means her provision onely to the good That live according to
her sober laws. 1639 J. SHIRLEY Gentleman of Venice V. ii,
Providence..made me worth a strangers piety, Whom your cho[i]ce meant
the ruine of my honor. 1642 J. DENHAM Cooper's Hill 16 Faire Liberty
pursude, and meant a Prey To tyranny, here turn'd. 1710 R. STEELE Tatler
No. 172 1, I do not mean it an Injury to Women, when I say there is a
Sort of Sex in Souls. 1773 P. V. FITHIAN Jrnl. (1900) 74 He meant it for
a Satire upon the neglect of the people in suffering their Grave-Yard to
lie common. 1792 J. BARLOW Conspiracy of Kings 83 Why to small realms
for ever rest confin'd Our great affections, meant for all mankind? 1842
R. BROWNING Through Metidja v, Ere I pried, she [sc. Fate] should
hide..All that's meant me. 1884 W. C. SMITH Kildrostan 57, I think Fate
meant us for each other. 1896 A. E. HOUSMAN Shropshire Lad lxii. 91 Say,
for what were hop-yards meant, Or why was Burton built on Trent? 1924 M.
BARING C xii. 138 His plays are meant for drawing-rooms. 1958 R. K.
NARAYAN Guide iii. 33 We passed through the corridor, peeping into the
room meant for the stationmaster. 1984 P. ACKROYD T. S. Eliot ii. 46
Such natures are not meant for restless drifting because they are
destroyed by it.
b. With infinitive: to predestine, design, or intend (a person or
thing) to be or do something. Freq. in pass.
1570 Act 13 Eliz. c. 25 §8 The said Acte..is not meant to extend..to
any Wynes Oyles Sugers. 1586 R. LANE in R. Hakluyt Principal Navigations
(1589) 737 The barkes, pinnesses, and boates with the Masters and
Mariners ment by him to bee left in the Countrie. 1646 SIR T. BROWNE
Pseudodoxia Epid. IV. i. 181 Man..was not meant to gape or looke upward
with the eye. 1742 E. YOUNG Complaint VIII. 598 Wisdom,..Was meant to
minister, and not to mar, Imperial pleasure. 1785 T. JEFFERSON Notes
Virginia xiii. 222 We might conclude that, by their affixing to it a
sense synonimous with ordinance, or statute, they meant it to be an
ordinance or statute. 1817 J. AUSTEN Sanditon vii, How far nature meant
them to be respectable I cannot tell. 1847 E. BRONTË Wuthering Heights
II. x. 222, I began in a serious tone, partly meaning it to be true.
1888 L. SPENDER Kept Secret III. i. 15, I did not mean you to take me in
earnest. 1900 J. CONRAD Lord Jim i. 3 His incognito..was not meant to
hide a personality but a fact. 1955 T. STERLING Evil of Day viii. 80 The
boy-next-door parody was meant to amuse her. 1996 C. BATEMAN Of Wee
Sweetie Mice & Men v. 43, I didn't mean it to come out quite so sharp.
c. In pass. to be meant: to be predestined by fate, providence, God,
etc., to exist or occur. (a) With to be.
1861 G. ELIOT Silas Marner xvii. 312 When you saw a thing was not
meant to be, said Nancy, it was a bounden duty to leave off so much as
wishing for it. 1962 G. CORSO Long live Man 60 Every man who has ever
lived was meant to be. 1989 M. BEATTIE Beyond Codependency IV. xiii. 147
If it's meant to be, it'll be... These sayings did not reach the loft=
state of clichehood without passing the tests of truth and time. 1997
Eastern Eye 14 Feb. 20/3 (advt.) If you'd like to take a chance with me
then write and we'll see if it's really meant to be (Inshallah).
(b) Without clause. (Sometimes used more or less adjectivally.)
1897 R. KIPLING Capt. Courageous viii. 169 It couldn't have been
meant. It was only the tide. 1956 M. STEWART Wildfire at Midnight i. 16
So handy having that address. It's as if it were meant. 1974 I. MURDOCH
Sacred & Profane Love Machine 239 When I need you, you are here. You
must see how meant it all is. 1986 K. MOORE Moving House viii. 94
Coincidence, she held, was just chance, not sent or meant.
d. In pass., with infinitive clause: to be reputed, considered, said
to be something. Cf. SUPPOSE v. 8d.
1878 R. SIMPSON School of Shakspere I. 34 It is confessed that Hawkins
and Cobham were meant to be buccaneers, and it is absurd to deny the
like of Stucley. 1945 Queen 18 Apr. 17/1 Such and such a play, they
[sc. my children] will say, is meant to be jolly good. 1972 Listener =
Mar. 310/1 America..is meant to be a great melting-pot. 1989 Times 30
Mar. 15/1 It [sc. evening primrose oil] is also meant to be good for
4. trans. To intend (a remark, allusion, etc.) to have a particular
reference. With at, by, for, of, to. Also intr. in to mean by: to intend
to refer to (obs.). Now rare.
In the 16th cent. to mean (a remark, etc.) by (a person) was the
usual expression for to mean (a person) by (a remark, etc.) (as in
1513 T. MORE Hist. Edward V in Wks. 55/2 That ment he by the lordes of
the quenes kindred that were taken before. 1542 N. UDALL tr. Erasmus
Apophthegmes 230b, He saied that he would leaue..suche a successour...
Menyng by Tiberius. 1570 in J. Cranstoun Satirical Poems Reformation
(1891) I. xix. 8 Gone is the Joy and gyde of this Natioun; I mene be
James, Regent of Scotland. a1599 SPENSER View State Ireland in J. Ware
Two Hist. Ireland (1633) 21, I doe not meane this by the Princes wards.
1641 R. SANDERSON Serm. (1681) II. 184 A flaunting hyperbole, far beyond
the merit of the Party he meant it to. 1749 LD. CHESTERFIELD Lett.
(1792) II. 230 He..thinks every thing that is said meant at him. 1753
LD. CHESTERFIELD Lett. (1792) IV. 13 They are convinced that it was
meant at them. 1904 H. O. STURGIS Belchamber ix. 129 There is a young
don in the story, and of course some one..decided it was meant for me.
1906 N.E.D. s.v., I wonder whether he meant it of any one in particular.
5. a. do you mean to say (also to tell me) and variants (with
following clause): expressing the speaker's surprise or scepticism at a
statement, suggestion, implication, etc. Also (usually less strongly)
you don't mean to say (also to tell me) and variants.
1763 A. MURPHY Citizen I. ii. 20 Did you mean to say as how I am a
person of taste? 1785 T. HOLCROFT Choleric Fathers I. 14 D. Sal. Sir, I
have too much respect to good manners to follow your example. D. Pimi.
Do you mean to say, sir, I don't know good manners? 1834 Southern Lit.
Messenger 1 110 A fraud, sir! do you mean to say I would commit a
fraud, sir? cried Willis, in an angry tone. 1839 DICKENS Nicholas
Nickleby xix. 181 Do you mean to tell me that your pretty niece was not
brought here as a decoy..? 1839 DICKENS Nicholas Nickleby xxix. 288 Why,
he don't mean to say he's going!.. Hoity toity! nonsense. 1841 DICKENS
Barnaby Rudge xxxix. 163 You don't mean to say their old wearers are
all dead, I hope? said Mr. Tappertit, falling a little distance from
him, as he spoke. Every one of 'em. 1899 R. BROUGHTON Game & Candle
129 You do not mean to imply..that Mrs. Grundy is going to interpose
between you and me? 1908 L. M. MONTGOMERY Anne of Green Gables xx. 230
Anne Shirley, do you mean to tell me you believe all that wicked
nonsense of your own imagination? 1944 H. CROOME You've gone Astray xxi.
209 Do you mean to say that in this day and age..you're going to come
the conventional? 1986 F. PERETTI This Present Darkness ix. 87 Do you
mean to say you've uncovered something new?
b. colloq. (chiefly Brit.). I mean to say: used parenthetically or
as an exclamation, usually to emphasize the speaker's sincerity or
concern, or to indicate indignation.
1843 DICKENS Christmas Carol i. 21 You may talk vaguely about driving
a coach-and-six up a good old flight of stairs..; but I mean to say you
might have got a hearse up that staircase, and taken it broadwise. 1923
P. G. WODEHOUSE Inimitable Jeeves i. 7 So dashed competent in every
respect... I mean to say, take just one small instance. 1963 D. LESSING
Man & Two Women 141, I mean to say, you've got to take the rough with
the smooth. 1984 B. MACLAVERTY Cal 96 I've a good mind to pay you off
here and now... I mean to say, you're working here a fortnight and you
break into our property and scare the living daylights out of us. 1991
M. KILBY Man at Sharp End 261 Well it's fairly obvious that you can't
go back to the plant, innit? agreed his platinum blonde flatmate
Deirdre. Well I mean to say..it stands to reason like..don't it? she
II. To signify; to convey or carry a meaning, significance,
6. a. trans. To indicate or signify (a certain object), or to convey
(a certain sense), when using some word, sentence, significant action,
etc. Sometimes with clause as object (often an indirect question
introduced by what). Now often with about, by.
how do you mean: see HOW adv. 3.
eOE ÆLFRED tr. Boethius De Consol. Philos. (Otho) xxxviii. 118 Gif he
ara nan nyte, onne nat he hwæt he mæn. OE ÆLFRIC Catholic Homilies: 2=
Ser. (Cambr. Gg.3.28) xiii. 132 Crist mænde one ecan dea, to am ne
becuma, a e his bebodu healda, and a iudeiscan mændon isne andweardan
dea, am ne ætwint nan eorlic mann. OE ÆLFRIC Old Eng. Hexateuch: Gen.
(Claud.) xviii. 20 God a geopenode Abrahame hwæt he mid ære spræce
mænde. c1175 (OE) Homily: Hist. Holy Rood-tree (Bodl. 343) 26 Heo æt
hire witon wolden hwæt heo mid am worde mende, et heo crist nemnen
scolde. a1225 MS Trin. Cambr. in R. Morris Old Eng. Homilies (1873) 2nd
Ser. 11 Wat e holie apostle mene o he nemnede niht and niehtes dede.
a1300 in R. Morris Old Eng. Misc. (1872) 85 Heo nuste hwat heo mende;
heo wes of wytte poure. a1375 William of Palerne 560 if i..told him..e
entecches of myn euele..he ne schold in no wise wite what i mente. a1400
(a1325) Cursor Mundi (Vesp.) 12631 Quat he wit is wordes ment, Graithli
wist ai noght e entent. 1415 T. HOCCLEVE Addr. to Sir John Oldcastle 1
in Minor Poems (1892) I. 8 The laddre of heuene, I meene charitee. a1425
WYCLIF Sel. Eng. Wks. (1871) II. 6 And sum men seien at Crist meenide at
he himsilf..is more an Joon Baptist. c1480 (a1400) St. Barnabas (Cambr.)
89 in W. M. Metcalfe Legends Saints Sc. Dial. (1896) I. 251 Gyf e will
wit quhat ve meyne. a1522 G. DOUGLAS tr. Virgil Æneid (1957) I. Prol.
387 Tuichand our tongis penurite, I mene onto compair of fair Latyne
[etc.]. 1530 J. PALSGRAVE Lesclarcissement 444/2 He becked at me, but I
wyste nat what he ment. 1617 F. MORYSON Itinerary I. 68 The twelfth
day..wee rode foure miles (meaning Dutch miles). 1644 K. DIGBY Two
Treat. I. xviii. 158 When we haue examined this, we shall vnderstand in
what sense it is meaned that Nature abhorreth from Vacuity. 1671 MILTON
Paradise Regain'd II. 28 Mean while the new-baptiz'd,..I mean Andrew and
Simon...Began to doubt. 1711 R. STEELE Spectator No. 136 4, I mean by
this Town the Cities of London and Westminster. 1782 J. H. ST. J. DE
CRÈVECUR Lett. from Amer. Farmer iii. 107, I know nothing of what you
mean about lease, improvement, will, jury, etc. 1782 F. BURNEY Cecilia
III. V. iv. 53 In both which [sc. reproof and compliment] more seemed
meant than met the ear. 1825 W. COBBETT Rural Rides 442 And what is
meaned by The fear of the Lord? 1854 THACKERAY Newcomes I. xxix. 287
What the devil do you mean about your Chimène and your Rodrigue? 1895
SIR A. KEKEWICH in Law Times Rep. 73 663/1 The Act does not mean
literally what it says. 1930 G. B. SHAW Apple Cart I. 16 What do you
mean? Isn't it what I have always said? 1969 E. BOWEN Eva Trout II. iv.
284 You're not coming in? asked Henry, meaning, into the vicarage.
1986 D. W. WINNICOTT Ess. i. 14 But what is meant by science? This is a
question that has often been asked.
b. trans. In interrogative contexts, usually rhetorically (as in
questions of the form what do you mean by ): to signify by an action;
(hence, by implication) to have as a motive or justification for an
Usually expressing criticism or indignation.
1553 T. WILSON Arte of Rhetorique III. f. 91, I maruaile sir what you
meane to be euer snarringe at me. 1564 W. BULLEIN Dial. Fever Pestilence
f. 12v, What meaneth hee by winckyng like a Goose in the raine? 1749 H.
FIELDING Tom Jones II. VI. vi. 266 What do you mean by running on in
this Manner to me? cries Sophia. 1792 F. BURNEY Diary Jan., What do
you mean by going home? cried she, somewhat deridingly. 1859 DICKENS
Tale of Two Cities II. i. 35 What do you mean by flopping yourself down
and praying agin me? 1892 MRS. H. WARD David Grieve II. iii, What, no
top-coat in such weather! What do you mean by that, sir? You're wet
through. 1926 E. FERBER Show Boat xix. 385 Nola darling, you've just
gone gaga, that's all. What do you mean by staying down there in that
wretched malarial heat! 1967 M. GLENNY tr. M. Bulgakov Master &
Margarita I. iv. 62 What do you mean by upsetting this foreign tourist?
1992 N.Y. Times 5 May D9/5 What do you mean by going away? he asks th=
waitress. How about suggesting an ice cream, or coffee, or some cakes?=
c. trans. To be in earnest in saying. to mean what one says: to
speak truthfully, sincerely, or with determination. to mean it: to be in
earnest regarding one's words or (in extended use) actions.
1750 M. JONES Misc. in Prose & Verse 378, I am entirely satisfy'd with
every thing you say or do; am convinc'd..that you mean all you say. 1840
J. H. NEWMAN Parochial Serm. V. iii. 51 Let us aim at meaning what we
say, and saying what we mean. 1854 DICKENS Hard Times II. viii. 213 The
Bank's robbed! You don't mean it! 1876 H. JAMES Roderick Hudson xi=
398, I was unkind yesterday, without meaning it. 1906 R. E. KNOWLES
Undertow xxiii. 299 What do you mean, Hiram?.. I mean what I say.=
1908 L. M. MONTGOMERY Anne of Green Gables xiii. 127 When I tell you to
come in at a certain time I mean that time and not half an hour later.
1952 E. O'NEILL Moon for Misbegotten I. 65 It's good to hear him laugh
as if he meant it. 1973 J. WAINWRIGHT Pride of Pigs 158 It was a very
special room... Fire-proof. And I mean fire-proof. Built to contain a
furnace. 1987 A. T. ELLIS Clothes in Wardrobe 76 He still listened,
but now..not believing that I meant what I said.
d. trans. colloq. (if) you know (also see, understand) what I mean:
expressing a hope that one has been understood (esp. when one has spoken
imprecisely, circumspectly, or euphemistically). Now also know what I
mean: used as an intensifier, or appended to a statement by way of
innuendo or insinuation, or as a filler.
[1575 Gammer Gurtons Nedle V. ii. sig. Eiiiv, For feare of Hobgobling,
you wot wel what I meane, As long as it is sence, I feare me yet ye be
scarce cleane.] 1846 G. E. JEWSBURY Sel. Lett. to J. W. Carlyle (1892)
203 There would be a want of reverence in it, if you understand what I
mean. 1874 TROLLOPE Phineas Redux II. xvii. 134 I'm afraid it is far
fetched, Ma'amif you understand what I mean. 1919 P. G. WODEHOUSE Damsel
in Distress x, There's nobody I think a more corking sportsman than
Maud, if you know what I mean, but..I'm most frightfully in love with
somebody else. 1961 J. HELLER Catch-22 (1962) iv. 33 A little grease is
what makes this world go round. One hand washes the other. Know what I
mean? You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. 1968 Guardian 24 Apr. 9/8
If I thought..he was going to back-chat me like he does now..I'd
half-kill him now, you know what I mean? 1974 Sunday Times 20 Jan. 12/4
[He'll] be only too keen to get back to his boat, if you see what I
mean. 1995 Smash Hits 29 Mar. 14/4 A couple of my old mates let someone
down, and they just got beaten up and darked, know what I mean?
e. intr. I mean: used parenthetically in conversation (or in writing
imitating conversational style) as a filler, with little or no
1892 I. ZANGWILL Children of Ghetto I. 223 Tank Gawd! I mean, can I
see him? 1938 N. MARSH Artists in Crime ix. 122, I mean, it was only
once ages ago, after a party, and I mean I think men and women ought to
be free to follow their sex-impulses anyway. 1951 J. D. SALINGER Catcher
in Rye xi. 92, I knew her like a book. I really did. I mean, besides
checkers, she was quite fond of all athletic sports. 1972 G. CHAPMAN et
al. Monty Python's Flying Circus (1989) II. xxvii. 50 Well I mean a lot
of these things that are happening, well they just don't quite ring
true. 1992 L. WOIDWODE Indian Affairs vi. 120 You know, like, uh, hey,
man, I mean, cool, huh?
f. intr. To convey meaning, to signify.
1926 A. MACLEISH Ars Poetica in Streets in Moon 38 A poem should be
motionless in time... A poem should not mean But be. 1940 H. G. WELLS
Babes in Darkling Wood II. iii. 211 See that your words mean. Half the
time they don't mean. 1957 G. RYLE in M. Black Importance Lang. (1962)
162 Expressions do not mean because they denote things.
7. trans. Of a thing, word, or statement: to have as signification;
to signify, import; to portend. Also with clause as object (often an
indirect question introduced by what).
In quot. eOE it is not entirely clear whether the speaker is the
riddle or Saturn; if the latter, then this would be an example of sense
eOE Metrical Dialogue of Solomon & Saturn (Corpus Cambr. 422) ii. 237
Saga hwæt ic [sc. a riddle] mæne. OE ÆLFRIC Catholic Homilies: 1st Se=
(Royal) xii. 277 Oft gehwa gesih fægere stafas awritene..& nat hwæt hi
mæna. ?c1200 Ormulum 5502 Swa att te muhenn shæwenn uw All whatt itt se
& mene. ?a1400 (a1338) R. MANNYNG Chron. (Petyt) II. 8 ei wist what it
ment. a1425 (a1325) Cursor Mundi (Galba) 25395 Amen, at menes, so =
it be. 1475 M. PASTON in Paston Lett. (1971) I. 376 Som of them..wote
full lytyll what yt meneth to be as a saugere. 1533 Fabyan's Chron. VII.
f. 20v, The kynge grauntyd to ye sayd cytesyns of London wareyn, that is
to meane that the cytesyns haue free lybertye of huntynge certayne
cyrcuyte aboute London. 1557 T. NORTH tr. A. de Guevara Diall Princes
345 From the time I knew what meaned to governe a common weale, I have
alwayes [etc.]. a1579 A. MONTGOMERIE Cherrie & Slae (Laing) 585 in Poems
(1910) 44 Expereance come in, and sperit, quhat [all] e mater menit.
1611 Bible (A.V.): Gen. xxi. 29 What meane these seuen ewe lambes, which
thou hast set by themselues? 1622 BACON Hist. Raigne Henry VII 234 His
Armes were neuer Infortunate; neither did hee know what a Disaster
meant. 1648 T. GAGE Eng.-Amer. (1655) x. 35 They knew not what money
meaned. 1667 MILTON Paradise Lost XI. 879 But say, what mean those
colourd streaks in Heavn. 1764 K. O'HARA Midas I. 5 What can this
hurly-burly, this helter~skelter mean? 1828 SCOTT Fair Maid of Perth
xiii, in Chron. Canongate 2nd Ser. III. 341 Eachin MacIanwhat means all
this? 1874 T. HARDY Far from Madding Crowd II. xi. 124 Oh! that meant
nothinga mere jest. 1908 E. F. BENSON Climber 135 She had but a few
babbling words in the tongues in which he was so glib, but her words
meant something; they signified. 1940 J. BUCHAN Memory Hold-the-Door i.
13 To me as a child, autumn meant the thick, close odour of rotting
leaves. 1993 L. WATSON Montana 1948 i. 22 Wilderness meant, to me,
getting out of town and into the country.
8. trans. To require, entail, necessitate; to produce as an effect
1841 E. MIALL in Nonconformist 1 228 Protection means shutting out the
best chapman and the best food. 1851 Tait's Mag. 21 490 Resurgent
Poland, he says, means resurgent Hungary, and even resurgent Italy. 1894
Times 5 Feb. 8/2 That would mean taking up all the streets in South
London. 1927 Passing Show Summer 23/3 Kendal Brown, sorrowfully
realising that this would mean a lifer for Bristola Birdseye, ducked his
head. 1958 R. NARAYAN Guide i. 5 It'd have meant walking home at nearly
midnight. 1994 Maclean's 17 Oct. 12/1 A third option would be to sharpen
the targeting of the child tax benefit, but that would mean less money
going to middle-income Canadians.
9. trans. With qualifying word or phrase: to be important to a
person to the extent indicated, esp. as a source of benefit or as an
object of regard, affection, or love; to matter (a lot, nothing, etc.).
1860 Atlantic Monthly Mar. 300, I uttered that word [wife] which
once meant so much to me, and now seemed such an empty title to bestow
on her. 1869 L. M. ALCOTT Little Women II. xxiii. 337 Dearest, it means
so much to me. 1888 MRS. H. WARD Robert Elsmere II. IV. xxvi. 279 It was
only by a great effort that he could turn his thoughts from the Squire,
and all that the Squire had meant to him during the past year. 1912 Red
Mag. 1 Mar. 515/1 It came over me how much she meant to me and how hard
a wrench it was going to be to live along without her. 1922 J. JOYCE
Ulysses 346 He would never understand what he had meant to her. 1950 J.
RHYS Let. 1-9 May (1984) 81 It means a lot, a friendly word just now.
1988 A. LURIE Truth about Lorin Jones vi. 105 People don't mean that
much to Laura.
III. To mention.
10. a. trans. To mention, speak of; to say, tell. Obs.
OE Maxims I 65 Widgongel wif word gespringe, oft hy mon wommum bilih,
hæle hy hospe mæna. OE Beowulf 857 ær wæs Beowulfes mæro mæned.=
(OE) ÆLFRIC Homily (Bodl. 343) in S. Irvine Old Eng. Homilies (1993) 73
We nyton, eah he mende at micele wundor, æt nan synful man ne mihte
swylce tacnæ wyrcæn. c1230 (?a1200) Ancrene Riwle (Corpus Cambr.) 163
Inoh is to seggen swa et te hali schrift feader witerliche understonde
hweat tu wulle meanen. c1275 (?a1200) LAAMON Brut (Calig.) 16310 Wel e
hit maen imunen at ich wulle mæinen. a1387 J. TREVISA tr. R. Higden
Polychron. (St. John's Cambr.) II. 345 ey poetes mene at Iupiter gildede
Saturnus. a1400 (a1325) Cursor Mundi (Vesp.) 12498 He had ar-for wel
gret pite, And us to ioseph it mened he. a1500 (a1460) Towneley Plays
141 The myght of me may no man mene. 1516 R. FABYAN New Chron. Eng.
(1811) II. xxxiv. 26 Gaufride meaneth yt this Sicillius was but .vii.
yeres of age when his Fader dyed. a1525 (c1448) R. HOLLAND Bk. Howlat
(Asloan) 756 in F. J. Amours Sc. Allit. Poems (1897) 73 Menstralis and
musicianis, mo than I mene may. a1600 J. MELVILLE Autobiogr. & Diary
(1842) 250 And when I haid come twyse or thryse na thing was meined to
me of that mater be the King. 1747 Lyon in Mourning (1895) II. 218 They
flockt about him like bee hives And humbly meant they'd risk their
lives..To serve his highness. 1774 D. GRAHAM Hist. Rebellion (ed. 3) xi.
124 Only his factor, who prov'd a friend, And how to act Miss to him
b. intr. (rarely with indirect object). To speak, tell. Chiefly with
by, of, on (Sc. and Eng. regional) (north.). Also (occas.) trans.
(refl.). Cf. sense 4. Obs.
OE Guthlac B 1233 y læs æt wundredan weras ond idesa, ond on gea
gutan, gieddum mænden bi me lifgendum. c1225 (?OE) Body & Soul
(Worcester) 55 et beo eos bearn, so so bec mæne. a1375 William of
Palerne 1925, I wol minge of a mater i mennede of bi-fore. a1400 (a1325)
Cursor Mundi (Vesp.) 24878 Hir succur son to ham sco sent, at in sli
murning on hir ment. a1500 (?a1400) Wars Alexander (Trin. Dub.) 1615 ai
amervale aime mekyll as menys me e writtes [c1450 Ashm. as e buke
tellis]. 1543 (1464) Chron. J. Hardyng (1812) 153 All these were called
Westsex, as Bede ment. 1562 N. WINET Certain Tractates i, in Wks. (1888)
I. 3 We mein of the pastores of the Kirk. a1586 (?a1513) W. DUNBAR Poems
(Maitland) (1979) 25, I dout that Merche with his caild blastis keyne
Hes slane this gentill herbe that I of mene. a1600 (1535) W. STEWART tr.
H. Boece Bk. Cron. Scotl. (1858) II. 219 Richt so did he, as my author
did meyne. 1625 R. MONTAGU Appello Cæsarem 196 S. Paul speaketh of
Iustification in the attayning it... But S. Iames meaneth of
Iustification had and obtained.
IV. To have an opinion.
11. trans. With clause as object: to hold or entertain an opinion;
to think, imagine, believe. Also (occas.) intr. Obs.
a1398 J. TREVISA tr. Bartholomaeus Anglicus De Proprietatibus Rerum
(BL Add.) f. 205v, ey at vse ydromancy mene that ey mowe haue answere of
god more herde by at an by oere precious stones. a1400 (a1325) Cursor
Mundi (Vesp.) 14686 ou mas e godd, and ou art man. Soth it es, =
iesus an, Bath i am, qua right wil men. c1449 R. PECOCK Repressor III=
xvii. 391 Ellis Crist in the alleggid xe. chapiter of Luk schulde haue
meened aens him silf in the other now alleggid placis. a1450 (a1338) R.
MANNYNG Chron. (Lamb.) I. 6888 Lord ow ar nought wene, Why y am comen e
may wel mene. 1533 J. GAU Richt Vay (1888) 51 Ciprianus menit that ye
quyk suld be the saulis. a1578 R. LINDSAY Hist. & Cron. Scotl. (1899) I.
31 Evirie man menit that it sould redound to his gret hurt. 1637 S.
RUTHERFORD Lett. (1862) I. 221 Knots of straw and things (as they mean)
off the way to heaven.
V. To remember.
12. To have in mind; to remember. a. trans. Obs.
a1400 (c1303) R. MANNYNG Handlyng Synne (Harl.) 6674 Sone, menest ou
nat what y er seyd? c1440 (a1400) Awntyrs Arthure (Thornton) 229 Gyffe
me grace for to..mene [a1500 Douce mynge] the with messes and matynnes
one morne. a1450 York Plays 93 Grete meruell es to mene, Howe man was
made. a1500 (?a1400) Wars Alexander (Trin. Dub.) 2956 Anepo..on
Alexander alway byholdes, en menys onys in massydon he had e man knawyn.
b. trans. (impers.), as me meaneth. To remember, recollect. Also
reflex. Chiefly with of. Obs.
a1400 (a1325) Cursor Mundi (Vesp.) 16889 Vs meins quils he was in lijf
at we herd him sai at [etc.]. a1400 (a1325) Cursor Mundi (Gött.) 5274 Ne
menis ou noght..Of a drem ful lang sien gan? a1450 (a1338) R. MANNYNG
Chron. (Lamb.) I. 1838 He recouered his strenge for tene, Of skae wold
he hym no more mene. c1450 (?c1425) St. Elizabeth of Spalbeck in Anglia
(1885) 8 118 Atte a dewe oure, and, as me meni, bytwix sexte and noon.
a1500 (?a1400) Wars Alexander (Trin. Dub.) 1625 In e marche of masydon
me menys on a tyme, Suche a segh in my slepe me sodenly appered.
c. intr. Chiefly with of, on, upon. Obs.
a1425 (?a1350) Gospel of Nicodemus (Galba) 123 Of Emperoures..is was
used..for folk suld on [v.r. of] air menskes mene. 1442 in J. Stuart
Extracts Council Reg. Aberdeen (1844) I. 397 It is to mene apon
that..Robert Masoun, and Gilbert Masoun, oblist them..til a honourable
knight. 1487 (a1380) J. BARBOUR Bruce (St. John's Cambr.) XII. 269 Menys
on our gret manheid. ?a1500 W. LICHFIELD Complaint of God (Lamb. 306)
221 in F. J. Furnivall Polit., Relig., & Love Poems (1903) 204 Of sodome
and gomer the ought to meene, howe I made fyre and brymston falle. a1522
G. DOUGLAS tr. Virgil Æneid (1960) XI. Prol. 172 Allthocht his lord wald
meyne On his ald seruis. c1580 Bk. Alexander 67 Mene vpon our hecht.
1655 J. CLARKE Phraseologia Puerilis (ed. 3) 16 Post hominum memoriam.
Ever since man could mean.
VI. To go towards. (Prob. conveying a strong idea of intentionality;
cf. branch I.)
13. trans. To advance on, attack; to threaten. Obs. rare.
c1425 (c1400) Laud Troy-bk. 4172 Gret schame it is..That we durst
neuere Troye mene, Ne neuere durst we hit ones se. c1540 (?a1400) Gest
Historiale Destr. Troy 7111 He..comaundit hom..To go bake fro e
batell..And mene hym no more, ne hor men kylle.
14. a. intr. To go (towards); to make one's way. to be meant: to be
bound for a specified place or direction. Obs.
c1450 (c1400) Sowdon of Babylon 784 Lordynges, whens come ye And
whider ye are mente, telle vs this tyde. a1525 (c1448) R. HOLLAND Bk.
Howlat (Asloan) 2 in F. J. Amours Sc. Allit. Poems (1897) 47 At morne,
as I ment, Throwe myrth markit on mold, till a grene meid. 1543 (1464)
Chron. J. Hardyng (1812) 34 With shippes xii to Italy had they mente.
1568 W. STEWART in W. T. Ritchie Bannatyne MS f. 265, Furth ouer the
mold at morrow as I ment Withowttin feir to tak the helsum air. 1584
JAMES VI & I Poems (1955) I. 19 So I amongst the paths vpon that
hill..Did stay confusde, in doubt what way to mene.
b. trans. To aim at, direct one's way to. Obs. rare.
1633 G. HERBERT Church Porch in Temple lvi, Who aimeth at the sky
Shoots higher much than he that means a tree. 1706 I. WATTS Horæ Lyricæ
I. 100 The muse ascends her heavenly car, And climbs the steepy path and
means the throne divine.
[ad. F. signifier (12th c., = Prov. signifiar, -ficar, Sp. and Pg.
significar, It. significare), ad. L. significre, f. signum SIGN n.]
1. a. trans. To be a sign or symbol of; to represent, betoken, mean.
c1250 Kent. Serm. in O.E. Misc. 27 et Gold et is bricht..signefieth e
gode beleaue et is bricht ine e gode cristenemannes herte. a1340 HAMPOLE
Psalter Prol., is boke is distyngid in thris fyfty psalmes, in e whilk
thre statis of cristin mannys religion is sygnifyd. 1402 Pol. Poems
(Rolls) II. 56 Foure angels singnefien foure general synnes. 1470-85
MALORY Arthur XIII. xiv. 631 The two knyghtes sygnefyen the two dedely
synnes. 1560 J. DAUS tr. Sleidane's Comm. 65b, This signifieth my body.
1597 HOOKER Eccl. Pol. V. lviii. §2 The secret grace which they [the
sacraments] signifie and exhibit. 1611 BEAUM. & FL. Philaster I. i, Then
took he up his Garland and did shew, What every flower as Country people
hold, Did signifie. 1687 DRYDEN Hind & P. I. 424 For what is signify'd
and understood, Is, by her own confession, flesh and blood. 1729 BUTLER
Serm. Wks. 1874 II. 56 These words are intended to signify certain forms
of civility. 1753 HOGARTH Anal. Beauty xi, The arrows [of Apollo] may be
allowed to signify the sun's rays. 1869 RUSKIN Q. of Air §8 It may be
easy to prove that the ascent of Apollo in his chariot signifies nothing
but the rising of the sun.
absol. 1533 FRITH Answ. More (1829) 331 Now, if they be signs, then
they do signify, and are not the very thing itself. 1652 GAULE
Magastrom. 228 Every voyce, therefore, that is significative, first of
all signifies by the influence of the clestial harmony.
b. To betoken, foreshow, indicate as something that is to take
place. Also absol.
13.. K. Alis. 596 (Laud MS.), e eye rounde shal signifie at he shal
habbe seignorye Of is rounde myddell erd. 1390 GOWER Conf. I. 306 A
Raven, be whom yit men mai Take evidence, whan he crieth, That som
mishapp it signefieth. c1440 York Myst. xv. 15 Or he be borne in burgh
hereby,..A sterne shulde schyne and signifie, With lightfull lemes.
a1450 Knt. de la Tour (1868) 11, Y wille shewe you what youre auision
signifiethe. c1475 Brut (1908) 603 ere aperyd in e ffirmament a gret
sterre,..whiche synified gret sorw, & myschef at fylle aftyrward. 1530
PALSGR. 718/1, I sawe a marvaylouse thyng in the ayre yesterday what so
ever it dothe signifye. 1665 COWLEY in Johnson L.P. (1868) 8 What this
signifies, or may come to in time, God knows; if it be ominous it can
end in nothing less than hanging.
2. Of words, etc.: To have the import or meaning of; to mean,
a1300 Cursor M. 22988 Ierom sais..at Iosaphat mai signifi Vr lauerd
dome. a1400 Pistill of Susan 287 What signefyes, gode sone, ese sawes at
ou seis? 1432-50 tr. Higden (Rolls) II. 151 For dal in the langage of
theyme signifiethe parte. c1510 MORE Picus Wks. 18/1 This name Jesus
signifieth a sauioure. 1610 HOLLAND Camden's Brit. (1637) 204, I have
heard likewise, that Caer in the Syriack tongue, signified, a Citie.
1696 WHISTON Th. Earth II. (1722) 173 The very Name of Typhon..signifies
a Deluge or Inundation. 1770 J. CLUBBE Misc. Tracts II. 141 Which is
expressed by a word in the Hebrew, that signifies to initiate. 1837 P.
KEITH Bot. Lex. 40 The autumn is designated by a term signifying the
fall of the leaf. 1876 TAIT Rec. Adv. Phys. Sci. (ed. 3) 365 We now
employ the term Energy to signify the power of doing work.
absol. 1668 H. MORE Div. Dial. IV. xiii. (1713) 315 You are to
understand..that the Kingdom of God in the New Testament signifies
variously. 1681 T. FLATMAN Heraclitus Ridens No. 66 (1713) II. 161
Conscience and Honesty are general Words, and signify, according to the
mind of the Speaker.
3. a. To make known, intimate, announce, declare.
1297 R. GLOUC. (Rolls) 3233 Me cluped him Vter pendragon..& at was to
singnefie at merlin him clupede dragon in is prophecye. 1382 WYCLIF Acts
xi. 28 Oon of hem..signyfiede bi the spirit a greet hungir to comynge in
al the roundnesse of erthis. c1400 Rom. Rose 7165 Thus myche wole our
book signifie, That while Petre hath maistrie May never Johan shewe
welle his myght. 1513 DOUGLAS Æneid VII. v. 141 The self stranger, quham
fatale destane Signifyit to cum furth of ane wncouth stede To be his son
in law. 1560 J. DAUS tr. Sleidane's Comm. 228 It is reported not onlie
in Germany, but also sygnyfyed oute of Italye, and other places. 1604 E.
G[RIMSTONE] D'Acosta's Hist. Indies VI. v. 442 A man of iudgement may
aske, how they could signifie their conceptions by figures. 1663 GERBIER
Counsel d5, When no living creature was come from Europe into that part
of America to signifie that newes. 1749 FIELDING Tom Jones (1775) III.
69 The 'squire and the parson..were smoaking their pipes together, when
the arrival of the lady was first signified. 1781 GIBBON Decl. & F. xix.
(1787) II 132 His first step was to signify a concise and haughty
mandate. 1837 LOCKHART Scott III. x. 324 In compliance with Scott's wish
as signified in the letter last quoted. 1884 Graphic 16 Aug. 162/3 Her
Majesty has signified her intention of subscribing 200l. to the Building
b. Const. to (unto).
c1430 LYDG. Min. Poems (Percy Soc.) 127 To signefie to pope and to
prelate, How this world is a thurghfare ful of woo. 1490 CAXTON Eneydos
xvii. 65 He..stroof wyth hymself by what wayes he myghte signyfie it
vnto her..for to gyue her lesse sorowe. 1560 J. DAUS tr. Sleidane's
Comm. 226b, The Duke of Saxon and the Lantzgrave immediately signifye to
themperour by letters the whole matter. 1597 MORLEY Introd. Mus. Ded.,
To publish these labors of mine vnder your name..to signifie unto the
world my thankfull mind. 1605 CAMDEN Rem., Allusions (1623) 140 It was
also signified vnto him, they were borne in..Northumberland. 1689 Col.
Rec. Pennsylv. I. 300 He thought they were obliged to ye Govr. for
signifying these things to them. 1776 ADAM SMITH W.N. I. ii. (1904) I.
15 Nobody ever saw one animal, by its gestures and natural cries,
signify to another, this is mine, that yours. 1855 MACAULAY Hist. Eng.
xviii. IV. 162 A prince who obstinately refused to comply with the
general wish of his people signified to him by his Parliament.
4. To compare, liken to something. Obs.
1456 SIR G. HAYE Law Arms (S.T.S.) 284 The quhyte colour..is signyfyit
to the vertu of puritee. 1470-85 MALORY Arthur XVII. ix. 703 Wel oughte
oure lord be sygnefyed to an herte.
5. To hint at. Obs. rare.
1513 MORE Rich. III (1883) 70 Other thinges, which the said worshipful
doctor rather signified then fully explaned.
6. To notify or inform (a person). Obs.
1523 LD. BERNERS Froiss. I. lxxxvi. 108 Sir Gaultier of Manny sent
certayne messangers to the kyng of Englande, signyfieng hym howe [etc.].
1566 in Marsden Court Adm. (Selden) II. 135 Plezeth your.. Lordshipp to
be signifyed that I have receivid your..writ of supersedeas to me
dyrectid. 1610 HEYWOOD Gold. Age III. i, Messengers dispatch'd to
signifie My sonne of our distresse. [1690 LOCKE Hum. Und. II. xiv. §23
Without some regular periodical Returns, we could not..signify others
the Length of any Duration.]
7. intr. To be of importance or consequence; to have significance;
to avail or matter: a. With advs., as much, little, nothing, or in
questions with what.
1661 MARVELL Corr. Wks. (Grosart) II. 58 The House left Liddall to
prosecute him at law, but I believe it will not signify much. 1686 tr.
Chardin's Trav. Persia 33 But it signify'd little. a1715 BURNET Own Time
(1724) II. 38 His speech signified nothing towards the saving of
himself. 1757 FOOTE Author 1, Lord! what signifies carrying such a
lumb'ring thing about? 1818 SCOTT Hrt. Midl. iii, It signifies little,=
replied Captain Porteous; your pain will be soon at an end. 1845 M.
PATTISON Ess. (1889) I. 27 Condemned Praetextatus must be, and what did
it signify by what semblance of law or justice? 1878 BROWNING La Saisiaz
30 What signifies repugnance? Truth is truth howe'er it strike.
b. Without qualifying word.
1677 W. HUGHES Man of Sin II. iii. 48 Is he not made to stand by as a
Cypher, when she alone must signifie in all these Devotions? 1743
BULKELEY & CUMMINS Voy. S. Seas 14 The Captain's Answer was, It does not
signify. 1762-71 H. WALPOLE Vertue's Anecd. Paint. (1786) III. 113 The
anecdotes of Cooper's life are few; nor does it signify; his works are
his history. 1817 LADY GRANVILLE Lett. (1894) I. 91 His eye is still
bloodshot, but nothing to signify. 1894 BARING-GOULD Kitty Alone II. 156
There was no metal to signify at the butt-end. 1903 SOMERVILLE & ROSS
All on Irish Shore iii. 75 Did many people say it? asked Mr Gunning..=
Oh, no one whose opinion signified! retorted Fanny Fitz. 1930 A. P.
HERBERT Water Gipsies ii. 16 Don't worry, Fred. It don't signify.
8. intr. U.S. slang (chiefly Blacks'). To boast or brag; to make
insulting remarks or insinuations.
1932 Evening Sun (Baltimore) 9 Dec. 31/5 Signify, to pretend to have
knowledge of a matter or subject in which one is poorly informed. 1935
Z. N. HURSTON Mules & Men I. vii. 161 Aw, woman, quit tryin' to
signify. Ah kin signify all Ah please, Mr. Nappy-chin. 1948 Common
Ground Summer 42/2 He was signifying and getting his revenge through
songs. 1968 Down Beat 7 Mar. 38/3 One night Billie brought the personal
element into focus by signifying, which in Harlemese means making a
series of pointed but oblique remarks apparently addressed to no one in
particular, but unmistakable in intention in such a close-knit circle.
1969 C. MITCHELL Lang. Behavior in Black Urban Community iii. 96, I
wasn't signifying at her, but..if the shoe fits, wear it. 1973 A. DUNDES
Mother Wit 141/2 A sample of some of the special techniques and forms of
extended word play should convince even the most adamant sceptic that no
black child who can signify or play the dozens can rightly be called
lacking in verbal skills.
[a. F. signe, sine, ad. L. signum mark, token, etc.]
I. 1. a. A gesture or motion of the hand, head, etc., serving to
convey an intimation or to communicate some idea. Freq. in the phrases
to make a sign or signs, and by signs.
a1225 Ancr. R. 70 Heo schal habben leaue to..makien signes touward
hire of one glede chere. c1350 Will. Palerne 2740 To e hert & e hinde he
turned him a-eine, & bi certeyn signes sone he hem taut. c1385 CHAUCER
L.G.W. 2367 Philomene, She..preyede hym with signys to gon Vn-to the
queen..And be signys swor hym manye an oth [etc.]. c1400 MANDEVILLE
(Roxb.) xxii. 100 ai speke not, bot..makez signes as mounkes duse. 1508
DUNBAR Tua Mariit Wemen 467, I have ane secrete serwand,..That me
supportis of sic nedis, quhen I a syne mak. 1530 PALSGR. 702/2 I spake
nothyng to him, but I shewed hym of it by signe otherwise. 1595 SHAKES.
John IV. ii. 237 Thou didst vnderstand me by my signes, And didst in
signes againe parley with sinne. 1626 BACON New Atl. 4 Warning us off by
signes that they made. 1664 BUTLER Hud. II. ii. 758 Then Hudibras, with
face and hand, Made signs for Silence. 1712 STEELE Spect. No. 454 4 The
Coachmen make Signs with their Fingers..to intimate how much they have
got that Day. 1791 MRS. RADCLIFFE Rom. Forest x, The moment Peter saw
her he made a sign of silence. 1839 F. A. KEMBLE Resid. in Georgia
(1863) 37 More by signs and dumb show than words. 1873 DIXON Two Queens
XVI. ii. III. 193 Scores of starving men were ready on a sign to hunt
b. A show or pretence of something. Obs.
c1400 MANDEVILLE (Roxb.) iii. 10 He made signe of etyng and feyned as
he had etyn. 1485 CAXTON Chas. Gt. 230 The whyche..made to hym synge of
loue and of subgectyon..vnder the shadowe of decepcyon. a1548 HALL
Chron., Hen. VI, 91b, Then he and all his companye made a signe of
c. A signal.
1601 SHAKES. Jul. C. V. i. 23 Mark Antony, shall we giue signe of
Battaile?.. No Cæsar. 1615 G. SANDYS Trav. 298 The Charioteers started
their horses upon a signe given. 1678 Life Black Prince in Harleian
Misc. (1809) III. 144 The sign of battle, being given by King Philip,
was entertained with clamours and shouts. 1708 CHAMBERLAYNE Pres. St.
Gt. Brit. (1710) 349 From the top..they made a Sign by Fire, when they
apprehended any imminent Danger. 1817 SHELLEY Rev. Islam X. vii, With
secret signs from many a mountain-tower, With smoke by day, and fire by
2. a. A mark or device having some special meaning or import
attached to it, or serving to distinguish the thing on which it is put.
Freq. in sign of the cross (cf. CROSS n. 3b).
c1290 S. Eng. Leg. I. 84 Heo made e signe of e croiz. 13.. Cursor M.
6078 (Gött.), On ilk a post..A sine of tau make e er. 1393 LANGL. P.
Pl. C. xv. 40 Crist cam and confermede and holy kirke made, And in sond
a sygne wrot. c1420 LYDG. Assembly of Gods 1040 Vertew commaundyd euery
wyght To pauyse hym vndyr the sygne of the roode. c1440 Pallad. on Husb.
XI. 22 Now nede is sette a signe on euery vyne That fertile is, sciouns
of hit to take For settyng. 1526 Pilgr. Perf. (W. de W. 1531) 26b,
Marked..not onely with the sygne of the crosse in our garmentis,..but
also (I trust) with the sygne of tau in our soules. 1560 J. DAUS tr.
Sleidane's Comm. 334 With his crosiers staffe [he] maketh the signe of
the crosse upon the highest walles. 1653 H. MORE Antid. Ath. II. vi,
Observing that several Herbs are marked with some Mark or Sign that
intimates their virtue. 1733 BERKELEY Th. Vision Vind. §40 A great
number of arbitrary signs, various and opposite, do constitute a
Language. 1769 ROBERTSON Chas. V, State Europe Note x, It was usual for
persons who could not write, to make the sign of the cross in
confirmation of a charter. 1833 N. ARNOTT Physics (ed. 5) II. 236 The
common visual signs on the retina..are of all signs the most readily
learned or understood. 1884 Cath. Dict. (1897) 258/1 The Church,
accustomed to bless everything with the sign of the cross.
b. A bookmark; = REGISTER n.1 7a. Obs.0
1483 Cath. Angl. 340/1 A Syne of a buke, registrum.
c. A conventional mark, device, or symbol, used technically (as in
music, algebra, botany, etc.) in place of words or names written in
1557 RECORDE Whetst. Sjb, Nombers Cossike, are soche as bee contracte
vnto a denomination of some Cossike signe. Ibid. Sijb, There be other
.2. signes in often vse, of whiche the firste is made thus + and
betokeneth more: the other is made - and betokeneth lesse. 1597 MORLEY
Introd. Mus. 104 The note whereupon the following part must begin, is
marked with this signe .?. 1609 DOWLAND Ornith. Microl. 87 A signe is
the successiue distribution of one and the same Close, in.. a Song. 1662
PLAYFORD Skill Mus. I. x. (1674) 32 The Perfect of the Less..; its Sign
or Mark is made thus. 1728 CHAMBERS Cycl. s.v. Character, Ordinarily..in
Algebra, the Sign [of multiplication] is omitted, and the two Quantities
put together. 1832 LINDLEY Introd. Bot. 422 In botany a variety of
marks, or signs, are employed to express particular qualities or
properties of plants. 1875 JOWETT Plato (ed. 2) IV. 150 Two minus signs
in arithmetic or algebra make a plus.
d. Math. A point. Obs. rare.
1570 BILLINGSLEY Euclid I. def. 1, A signe or point is that which hath
no part. Ibid., Vnity..is lesse materiall then a signe or poynt.
e. Math. That aspect of a quantity which may be either positive or
1820 G. PEACOCK Differential & Integral Calculus 112 The sign of d2u
may be easily determined. 1836 A. DE MORGAN Differential & Integral
Calculus xiv. 369 When there is a change of sign, y is a maximum (M), or
a minimum (m), according as the change is from + to - or from - to + (x
increasing). 1924 G. F. SWAIN Structural Engin. xiii. 350 It is obvious
that n1 will have the same sign as ft, and n2 the opposite sign. 1957 G.
E. HUTCHINSON Treat. Limnol. I. ix. 597 Where biochemical oxygen uptake
or production occurs, no general rule as to the sign of the divergence
from saturation will be possible. 1978 C. P. MCKEAGUE Elem. Algebra i.
23 To multiply any two real numbers simply multiply their absolute
values, the sign of the answer is 1. positive if both numbers had the
same sign..2. negative if the numbers had opposite signs.
3. A mark of attestation (or ownership), written or stamped upon a
document, seal, etc. Obs.
1362 LANGL. P. Pl. A. II. 82 e Deede was a-selet, Be siht of sir
Symoni and Notaries signes. 1377 Ibid. B. xx. 270, I wolde..at e were in
e Registre, And owre noumbre vndre notaries sygne. c1460 Oseney Reg. 133
The forsaide x. acris..lien in the Northefelde of the foresaide towne
with owre syne woonyd i-seeled. 1474 CAXTON Chesse II. i. (1883) 22 Not
only her promises but their othes her sealis and wrytynges & signes of
their propre handes. 1558 in 10th Rep. Hist. MSS. Comm. App. V. 388 In
wittnes hereof we have..set hereunto our signes and common sealle. 1609
BIBLE (Douay) Jer. xxxii. 44 The fieldes..shal be written in a booke,
and the signe shal be stamped on, and a witnes shal be taken.
4. A figure or image; a statue or effigy; an imprint. Obs.
1362 LANGL. P. Pl. A. IV. 112 Bere no seluer ouer see at bere signe of
e kyng. 1387 TREVISA Higden (Rolls) I. 229 ere is anoere signe and
tokene to fore e popes paleys; an hors of bras and a man sittynge eron.
c1440 Pol., Rel., & L. Poems (1903) 152 Ther ys ette a syne of his fote
On a marbull stone er as he stode. 1589 WARNER Alb. Eng. VI. xxix.
(1602) 143 For often Vprores did ensue for him, as vndeceast, Howbeit
solemnely inter'd, himselfe, or Signe at least.
5. a. A device borne on a banner, shield, etc.; a cognizance or
c1290 S. Eng. Leg. I. 158 Ane Croiz, at Man fer isai,.. at was signe
of is baner. c1350 Will. Palerne 3213 Swete sire, e me saye what signe
is e leuest to haue schape in i scheld to schene armes? 1399 Rolls of
Parlt. III. 452 That thei..gyf no Liverees of Sygnes, no make no Retenue
of men. c1420 LYDG. Assembly of Gods 355 A garland of yuy he [Bacchus]
chase for hys sygne. 1461 Coventry Leet-bk. II. 319 [That they] neyther
were ne vse oure most honnorable signe, nor any other lordes or
gentilles signe, tokyn or lyuere. 1562 LEGH Armorie 47, I will therfore
shewe you of signes yt are borne, and do occupie the same Escocheon.
b. Something displayed as an emblem or token; esp. an ensign,
banner, standard. Obs.
c1400 Song Roland 503 An C thoussand of good men..with proud synes of
silk lifte on loft. c1440 York Myst. xvii. 222 Vn-to at Prince I rede we
praye, That till vs sente his syngne [sc. the star] vnsoght. 1483 CAXTON
Gold. Leg. 305/1 He is had among the companye of Angels as banerer and
berynge the signe of oure lord. 1500-20 DUNBAR Poems xxxviii. 4 The
signe trivmphall rasit is of the croce. 1596 DALRYMPLE tr. Leslie's
Hist. Scotl. II. 300 Monie standarts and syngis..left be the Jnglismen,
be the Scotis ar tane. 1667 MILTON P.L. VI. 776 The great Ensign of
Messiah blaz'd Aloft by Angels born, his Sign in Heav'n.
c. spec. A pilgrim's token. Obs.
1362 LANGL. P. Pl. A. VI. 12 An hundred of ampolles on his hat seeten,
Signes of Synay and Schelles of Galys. c1400 Beryn 171 Then, as manere &
custom is, signes ere ey boute. Ibid. 175, 191.
d. pl. Insignia. Obs. rare.
1591 SPENSER M. Hubberd 1016 Yet at the last..He all those royall
signes had stolne away.
6. a. A characteristic device attached to, or placed in front of, an
inn (house) or shop, as a means of distinguishing it from others or
directing attention to it; in later use commonly a board bearing a name
or other inscription, with or without some ornament or picture. Also, a
board giving information, directions, etc.
1467 in Eng. Gilds (1870) 405 That no person sille none ale out of his
place, but he haue a signe at his dorre. c1470 Promp. Parv. (K.) 456/1
Syne of an in. 1539 TAVERNER Erasm. Prov. (1552) 42 The Englysh prouerbe
is this. Good wyne nedeth no signe. 1593 SHAKES. 2 Hen. VI, V. ii. 67
Vnderneath an Ale-house paltry signe, The Castle in S. Albons. 1617
MORYSON Itin. III. 156, I did never see nor heare that they have any
publike Innes with signes hanging out. 1667 PRIMATT City & C. Build. 69
Note, That they weigh with the Balconie, the Bars that are to fasten the
sign thereunto. 1727 SWIFT Imit. Horace II. vi. 72 To read the Lines
Writ underneath the Country Signs. 1780 Mirror No. 82 Putting up their
pictures as signs for their taverns and ale-houses. 1816 J. SCOTT Vis.
Paris (ed. 5) 91 The signs of the shops are very elegant;that is to say,
they are elegant for signs. 1859 JEPHSON Brittany ix. 134 The first
thing that met my eye..was a sign over a public-house. 1904, etc. [see
road sign s.v. ROAD n. 9b].
fig. 1642 FULLER Holy & Prof. St. I. viii. 20 Fools! who to perswade
men that Angels lodged in their hearts, hung out a devil for a signe in
their faces. a1684 LEIGHTON Wks. (1816) 429 Fantastic garb in apparel,
which is the very bush or sign hanging out, that tells a vain mind
lodges within. 1825 SCOTT Talism. iv, I am but the vile and despised
sign, which points out to the wearied traveller a harbour of rest and
security, but must itself remain for ever without doors.
b. In phr. at the sign of (the Bell, Sun, etc.).
1501 Alcock's Mons Perfect. Colophon, Enprynted at London in flete
strete at the sygne of ye sonne by Wynkin de worde. 1542-3 Act 34 & 35
Hen. VIII, c. 12 One little lane stretching from the said way, to the
signe of the bell at Drewry lane ende. 1672 Heath's Flagellum Title-p.,
Sold at his Shop at the Signe of the Crown. 1722 DE FOE Col. Jack (1840)
94 We baited at an inn, at the sign of the Falcon. 1749 FIELDING Tom
Jones VIII. viii, Chose for their house of entertainment the sign of the
Bell. 1828 SCOTT F.M. Perth xx, An appointment to meet with the others
of his company at the sign of the Griffin.
c. at the sign of the moon, in the open air by night. (After Fr. à
l'enseigne de la lune.) Obs.
1613 PURCHAS Pilgrimage III. x. (1614) 294 They often lodge (saith
Willamont) at the signe of the Moone; and the like moderation they vse
in diet and apparel. 1679 G. R. tr. Boaistuau's Theat. World II. 107 The
Souldier is for the most part always waking, having his Quarters at the
Sign of the Moon.
II. 7. a. A token or indication (visible or otherwise) of some
fact, quality, etc. Also the signs of the times, indications of current
trends; now freq. as sing. phr. with leading indef. article.
1297 R. GLOUC. (Rolls) 3744 er nas nour aboute knit..bot hii of sute
were Of king arthures hous, oer som signe er of bere, Of robes oer of
armes. 13.. E.E. Allit. P. B. 489 at was e syngne of sauyte at sende hem
oure lorde. c1386 CHAUCER Melib. §53 It is signe of gentil herte whan a
man..desireth to han a good name. c1400 Lanfranc's Cirurg. 181 If e
place be whijt & neische..it is a signe of fleume. 1484 CAXTON Fables of
Avian viii, [He] hath shewed to the grete sygne or token of loue. 1525
BIBLE (Tyndale) (1526) Matt. xvi. 3 Can ye not discerne the sygnes of
the tymes? a1533 LD. BERNERS Gold. Bk. M. Aurel. (1546) Ciiib, He bare
in his hande the signe or token of the office, wherby he lyued. 1594 in
Cath. Rec. Soc. Publ. V. 285 All with black hoods, which with us is a
signe of gentlewomen. 1638 JUNIUS Paint. Ancients 228 Though it be no
signe of a more polished, yet is it a marke of a greater wit. 1697
DRYDEN Virg. Georg. III. 670 The Causes and the Signs..Of ev'ry Sickness
that infects the Fold. 1750 GRAY Long Story 89 [It was] no sign of
grace, For folks in fear are apt to pray. 1829 T. L. PEACOCK Misfort.
Elphin x, They here found..materials of spinning and embroidering, and
other signs of female inhabitancy. 1833 Daily Nat. Intelligencer 17 July
3/3 We have stood upon our reserved rights of neutrality, to watch th=
signs of the times. 1863 GEO. ELIOT Romola xxii, Working people..bearing
on their dress or persons the signs of their daily labour. 1874 GREEN
Short Hist. iv. §5. 202 The exile of Gaveston was the sign of the
Barons' triumph. 1907 Nature 14 Mar. 459/1 This book is an interesting
sign of the times. 1921 J. GALSWORTHY To Let II. xi. 214 He's a sign of
the times, muttered Soames, if you like. 1953 A. J. TOYNBEE World =
West vi. 93 The people who have read the signs of the times and have
taken action in the light of these indications are the obscure
missionaries of half-a-dozen Oriental religions. 1977 Gay News 24 Mar.
19/3 Last year, perhaps as a sign of the times, Take Six notched up over
80 mentions in everything from the Daily Mirror to the Italian glossioso
b. Used without const., or with clause following.
c1380 WYCLIF Sel. Wks. II. 258 Signes of e olde lawe weren toknes of
oure signes now, as ei ben tokenes of e blisse of hevene. 1422 tr.
Secreta Secret., Priv. Priv. 232 They haue many tokenys or syngnes by
wych a man may deme the Physnomye. 1483 CAXTON Cato 5 Of the foure
Sygnes or tokens by whiche is knowen trewe loue. 1560 J. DAUS tr.
Sleidane's Comm. 55b, To axe of God a sygne wherby he maye testifie,
that he careth for us. a1656 BP. HALL Rem. Wks. (1660) 192 The thing
signed is usually put for the sign itself. 1690 LOCKE Hum. Und. III. x.
(1695) 277 The using of Words, without clear and distinct Ideas; or,
which is worse, signs without any thing signified. 1766 GRAY Impromptus
12 A sign you have eat just enough and no more. 1833 TENNYSON Two Voices
270 Know I not Death? the outward signs? 1885 S. O. JEWETT Marsh Island
xii, She never had given a single sign that she loved or meant to marry
him. 1890 W. JAMES Princ. Psychol. II. xxii. 356 Language is a system of
signs, different from the things signified, but able to suggest them.
c1902 C. S. PEIRCE Coll. Papers (1932) II. §92 Genuine mediation is the
character of a Sign. 1922 tr. Wittgenstein's Tractatus 53 The sign is
the part of the symbol perceptible by the senses. 1938 C. W. MORRIS
(title) Foundations of the theory of signs. 1947, 1949 [see SIGNIFIANT].
1954 [see SIGNIFIER b]. 1964 GOULD & KOLB Dict. Soc. Sci. 641/2 Sign
denotes any stimulus which, because of association with another
stimulus, elicits a response appropriate to but in the absence of the
original stimulus. 1978 Incorporated Linguist Summer 60/3 Modern
society's haste to read inadvertently into signs (in the Barthesian
sense) rather than decipher the simple message. 1979 S. G. J. HERVEY
Axiomatic Semantics vii. 61 By the law of excluded middle, any given
sign is either simple or complex, but not both.
c. Without article, in phr. in sign of (or that).
1297 R. GLOUC. (Rolls) 3986 Branches hii bere Of oliue, as in signe at
hii aen pays nere. a1300 Cursor M. 5121 He kist am all in signe o saght.
1362 LANGL. P. Pl. A. XI. 98 In signe at I schulde bi-sechen hire of
grace. 1474 CAXTON Chesse II. iv. (1883) 44 The kynge..gyrdeth a boute
them a swerde in signe that they shold abyde and kepe hym. 1546 Reg.
Privy Council Scot. I. 30 In signe and takin herof my Lord Governour hes
takyn baith thair handis. 1593 SHAKES. 3 Hen. VI, IV. viii. 26 In signe
of truth, I kisse your Highnesse Hand. 1611 SIR W. MURE Mes Amours 39
Receaue, in sing that thou hes won the field, The bow. 1718 POPE Iliad
X. 321 In sign she favour'd their intent, A long-wing'd heron great
Minerva sent. 1865 MILL Exam. Hamilton 381 An animal is called a bull,
in sign of its possessing certain attributes.
d. Theol. Phr. outward visible sign and varr., in sacramental
ordinances, the outward and visible aspect which symbolizes the inward
and spiritual aspect. Also transf.
1553 J. BRADFORD in Coverdale Lett. Martyrs (1564) 293 There is
Idolatry in worshipping the outwarde signe of breade and wyne. 1604 Bk.
Com. Prayer, Catechism, Q. How many partes be there in a Sacrament? A.
Two: the Outward visible signe, and the Inward spirituall Grace. c1816
J. MARRIOTT Hymn, Grant to this child the inward grace, While we the
outward sign impart. 1861 tr. O Food that Weary Pilgrims Love! in Hymns,
Anc. & Mod. (Introits & Anthems) p. xvii, O Jesu, Whom, by power divine
Now hidden 'neath the outward sign, We worship and adore. 1898 A. G.
MORTIMER Cath. Faith & Practice I. 124 The matter [of a sacrament] is
the outward sign; the form that which determines the matter to its
special use or purpose. 1921 J. GALSWORTHY To Let III. x. 288 In the
union of the great-granddaughter..with the heir of a ninth baronet was
the outward and visible sign of that merger of class in class which
buttresses the political stability of a realm. 1931 V. DIXON Sebastian
Wile II. ii. §1 Her governess had said farewell, outward and visible
sign that Martha's days of childish servitude were over. 1938 Doctrine
in Church of England II. 127 The ordinary scholastic use is to employ
the word [sc. sacrament] as meaning the outward and visible sign. 1951
A. POWELL Question of Upbringing iii. 157 Monsieur Dubuisson accepted
the brandy as the outward and visible sign of reconciliation. 1962
WILSON & TEMPLETON Anglican Teaching ix. 180 The Catechism..defines a
Sacrament as an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual
grace..ordained by Christ Himself.
e. U.S. The trail or trace of wild animals, etc.
Sometimes in pl., but the sing. is the technical use.
1692 Cal. Virginia St. Papers (1875) I. 44 We Ranged about to see if
we could find ye tract of any Indians, but we could not see any fresh
signe. 1746 New Hampsh. Hist. Soc. Coll. (1834) IV. 208 By the sign of
this ambush, and by the sign of their going off, in a single file, it
was supposed there could not be less than 50 or 60 Indians. 1821 J.
FOWLER Jrnl. 3 Nov. (1898) 33 Heare We find the first fresh Sign of
bever. Ibid. 7 Nov. 36 We see old sign of Indeans... We again See the
Sign of White men a Head of us. 1847 G. F. RUXTON Mexico & Rocky Mts.
xxi. 170 On the banks of the river I saw some fresh beaver sign.
Ibid., We saw Indian sign on the banks of the river. 1851 MAYNE REID
Scalp Hunt. xxxii. 243 Buffalo signs appeared as we rode into them.
1890 L. D'OYLE Notches 68 We had noticed bear sign in a thick patch o=
rose-bushes. Ibid., Lots of fresh sign, but no bear.
f. Med. An objective evidence or indication of disease (as opposed
to a subjective one, or symptom); often used with the name of one who
associated an indication with a disease characterized by it, to
designate the former.
1842 W. A. GUY Hooper's Physician's Vademecum (new ed.) I. iii. 16 The
word sign has not precisely the same meaning as the term symptom, though
the two terms are sometimes used without much discrimination... Cough,
expectoration, dyspna, hectic fever, night sweats, and emaciation, are
symptoms of pulmonary consumption, but they are not signs, for each of
them may occur in other diseases; but cavernous respiration and
pectoriloquy are signs. Ibid., The term physical sign is in common use
among medical men: it means a sign which is an object of sense. Thus
heat, redness, and swelling are physical signs of inflammation,
pectoriloquy of phthisis, coagulable urine of disease of the kidney.
1851 R. P. COTTON Phthisis & Stethoscope i. 12 Physical signs by
themselves, as a general rule, determine nothing more than physical
conditions..; hence it is, that we require the use of other rules, as
well as a knowledge of the patient's history and general symptoms. Ibid.
ii. 24 Diminished resonance is one of the earliest and most
characteristic signs of phthisis. 1872 W. WILLIAMS Princ. & Pract. Vet.
Surg. xiii. 244 The diagnostic signs of elbow-joint lameness are, first,
the semi-flexed position of the limb..whilst standing still; and the
dropping of the head and anterior parts of the body during action. 1886
J. FINLAYSON Clin. Manual for Study Med. Cases (ed. 2) ii. 51 A pain is
a Symptom (subjective); a bulging chest, to which it may be due, is a
Sign (objective): giddiness is a Symptom (subjective); the
staggering resulting from it is a Sign (objective). 1908 Practitioner
Jan. 10 We do not obtain ankle clonus, or Babinsky's, or Oppenheim's
sign. 1927 G. W. DEEPING Kitty xv. 193 Mr. St. George had an undoubted
paraplegia. There was definite spasticity of the lower limbs...
Babinski's sign was present. 1956 A. I. LITTLEJOHN tr. D. Wirth's Vet.
Clin. Diagnosis 1 Symptoms in the medical sense are not available to the
veterinary diagnostician, but the substitution of the term symptom fo=
sign in veterinary usage is widespread. 1971 S. MAGALINI Dict. Med.
Syndromes 148/1 Dercum's [syndrome]... Symptoms. Prevalent in women 40
to 60 years of age. Pain in part of body where localized accumulation of
fat occurs. Asthenia, headache... Signs. Subcutaneous accumulation of
fat elevated, dry, reddish, or bluish, anesthesia and diminished
cutaneous sensibility. 1974 T. MCGINNIS Well Dog Bk. (1979) 95 Because
your dogs cannot describe their feelings in words, they technically have
no symptoms, only signs which are any objective evidence of disease or
injury you can detect.
8. a. A trace or indication of something; a vestige. Chiefly in
13.. Seuyn Sag. 2934 (W.), So he traueld monethes thre, And no signe
of hyr kowth he se. 1390 GOWER Conf. III. 315 With the craftes whiche he
couthe, He soghte and fond a signe of lif. c1440 York Myst. xi. 100, I
se ondyr a ful selcouth syght, Wher-of be-for no synge was seene. 1567
ALLEN Def. Priesthood 228 Wherof yet in most Churches ther remaineth a
smal signe, by disciplin geuen [etc.]. c1586 C'TESS PEMBROKE Ps. CXV.
iii, [No] signe of sound their throates can show. 1715 LEONI Palladio's
Archit. (1742) II. 66 The Aqueducts..whose Ruins and Signs are to be
seen on the Road. 1726 SWIFT Gulliver I. i, I..could not discover any
Sign of Houses or Inhabitants. 1795 Ann. Reg., Hist. 109 No signs of
such an intention were perceivable. 1872 BLACK Adv. Phaeton xxx. 407
There is no sign of life in this wild place.
b. A mere semblance of something. Obs.
1607 BRETON A Murmurer Wks. (Grosart) II. 8/2 Oh fine foole, how thou
wouldest haue the signe of a man stand for a man? 1673 DRYDEN Marr.
à-la-Mode II. i, If it be but to punish that sign of a Husband there;
that lazy Matrimony. 1693 CONGREVE Old Bach. III. iii, I would not have
you draw yourself into a premunire, by trusting to that sign of a man
9. An indication of some coming event; spec. an omen or portent.
13.. Cursor M. 22430 (Gött.), Forn domes-dai ai sal be sene, wid
sorful sines ful fijf-tene. 1387 TREVISA Higden (Rolls) II. 165 Soche ey
declare certeynliche by schewynge of tokenes and of synnes [v.r. synes]
at bee in suche a schulder boon. 1513 DOUGLAS Æneid IV. viii, How Dido
send hir sistir Enee to pray, And of the grisly singis did hir affray.
1542 BOORDE Dyetary xl. (1870) 302 That there is lykle [sic] hope of
amendment, but sygnes of deth. 1593 SHAKES. 3 Hen. VI, V. vi. 44 The
Owle shriek'd at thy birth, an euill signe. 1621 T. WILLIAMSON tr.
Goulart's Wise Vieillard 94 The auncient Iewes had this saying, that it
is bonum omen, a good signe to see an old man in a house. 1725 Fam.
Dict. s.v. Clouds, When..waterish Clouds appear on the Tops of Hills, it
is a Sign of Rain to follow. 1793 COWPER Tale 61 Seamen much believe in
signs. 1817 SHELLEY Rev. Islam X. xvi, These signs the coming mischief
did foretell. 1833 TENNYSON May Queen III. x, If it come three times, I
thought, I take it for a sign.
10. a. An act of a miraculous nature, serving to demonstrate divine
power or authority.
In Biblical use, after L. signum, Gr. .
a1300 Cursor M. 13420 is was e formast sign he did. Ibid. 13438 Sli
signe did crist at is bridall. 1382 WYCLIF Acts iv. 22 The man was more
than of fourty eeris, in the which this sygne of heelthe was maad. 1611
BIBLE Acts ii. 43 Many wonders and signes were done by the Apostles.
1665 J. SPENCER Vulg. Proph. 59 But every Sign is not (if we speak
accurately) a Miracle. 1727 DE FOE Syst. Magic I. iii. (1840) 73
Pharaoh, in contempt of Moses and Aaron, and the sign or miracle they
had shown. 1876 MELLOR Priesth. iv. 179 His hearers no sooner caught the
word faith, than they demanded a sign which might warrant it.
b. A marvel or wonder. Obs.1
a1400-50 Alexander 4934 Sire, ou sall see with i sit slike signes, or
ou passe, As neuire segge vndire son sae bot ine ane.
11. Astr. a. One or other of the twelve equal divisions of the
Zodiac, each distinguished by the name of a constellation and frequently
denoted by a special symbol.
c1340 HAMPOLE Pr. Consc. 4803 e twelfte day aftir, e sternes alle And
e signes fra e heven sal falle. 1390 GOWER Conf. III. 108 Ther ben
signes tuelve, Whiche have her cercles be hemselve Compassed in the
zodiaque. c1430 LYDG. Min. Poems (Percy Soc.) 2 Whan Phebus whas..yronne
Out of the signe, wiche callyd is aquary. 1483 CAXTON Cato evb, The man
whych is borne in a good planette or sygne. 1509 HAWES Past. Pleas.
XXII. (Percy Soc.) 105 He sette..The bodies above to have their moving,
In the xii. signes them selfe to domify. 1555 EDEN Decades (Arb.) 279 At
that tyme the soonne was in the north signes. 1610 HOLLAND Camden's
Brit. (1637) 182 Vnder what Signe in heaven Britaine lieth. a1646 J.
GREGORY Posthuma (1650) 299 Now look what Sign of the twelv shall bee
found to rise up in the Horoscope or Angle of the East, that is the
Sign-Regent of that Hous or Citie. 1709 STEELE Tatler No. 100 § 3, I was
looking..on that Sign in the Heavens which is called by the Name of the
Ballance. 1812 WOODHOUSE Astron. xxix. 289 The motions of Jupiter's
satellites are according to the order of the signs. 1868 LOCKYER Elem.
Astron. §37 These are called the zodiacal constellations (very carefully
to be distinguished..from the signs of the zodiac bearing the same
b. A constellation. Obs. rare.
1398 TREVISA Barth. De P.R. VIII. xxiii. (Bodl. MS), Arcturus is a
signe ymade of vij. sterres. Ibid., Orioun is a signe that ariseth in
wintere. 1490 CAXTON Eneydos xii. 46 The sygne of Oryon. 1565 COOPER
Thesaurus, Orion..was..translated among the sterres, & there is the
signe called in latine Jugula. 1611 COTGR. s.v. Orion.
III. 12. attrib. and Comb., as (sense 1) sign-language (also fig.),
-maker, -speech, -talk; (sense 2c) sign-symbol; (sense 5) sign-mark;
(sense 6) sign-iron, -painter, -writer (WRITER 1b), -writing; (sense 7)
sign-situation, -system, -using vbl. n. and ppl. adj., -word; (sense 11)
1653 R. SANDERS Physiogn. 1 A Zodiack..; the Latins call it Signifer,
that is to say, *Sign-carrier.
1778 Phil. Trans. LXIX. 44 On passing through the streets of London in
his walks, before the *sign-irons were taken down. 1836 in Hist.
Chesterfield (1839) 45 Having a sign, sign-iron, sign~post, or
shew-board suspended from or in front of such house.
1847 T. H. GALLANDET in Amer. Ann. Deaf & Dumb I. 59 They originate
from elements of this *sign-language which nature furnishes to man
wherever he is found, whether barbarous or civilized. 1865 TYLOR Early
Hist. Man. ii. 25 The teacher remarked that I did not seem to be quite a
beginner in the sign-language. 1960 S. PLATH Colossus 39
These..sheets..Speak in sign language of a lost other~world. 1981 Amer.
Speech LVI. 130 Sign language is as adequate for the deaf as any
vocal-auditory language is for a hearing person.
1889 MIVART Orig. Hum. Reason 66 Such a movement is a true sign,
being a movement made depicting a fact with the intention of conveying
to other minds the ideas of the *sign-maker.
1840 BROWNING Sordello IV. 387 The Kaiser's ominous *sign-mark had
first place, The crowned grim twy-necked eagle.
1725 New-Eng. Courant 15 Feb. 1/2, I would oblige every *Sign-Painter
to serve seven Years at College, before he presum'd to handle Pencil or
Paint-Box. 1776 BURNEY Hist. Mus. I. 221 The painter should have had
about the same degree of merit with a good sign-painter in Europe. 1814
SIR R. WILSON Priv. Diary (1862) II. 346 For fear the head should not be
recognised as the saint's, a brown cap is put upon it by the
sign-painter. 1942 Burlington Mag. Jan. 9/1 Ireland takes this sketch as
a proof that Hogarth contemplated setting up as a sign-painter.
1923 OGDEN & RICHARDS Meaning of Meaning i. 15 There may be a very long
chain of *sign-situations intervening between the act and its referent.
1977 Dædalus Fall 105 Literature..though it is..a form of
communication..is cut off from the immediate pragmatic purposes which
simplify other sign situations.
1873 CAYLEY in Messenger Math. II. 17 Theorems in Relation to Certain
1924 R. H. BELL Mystery of Words 101 A study of the general principles
of language has brought out the nature of the linguistic *sign-system.
1977 R. H. BROWN in Douglas & Johnson Existential Sociol. ii. 90 These
norms and rules form a sign system that is itself subject to the
feedback of experience.
1897 KIPLING Capt. Cour. 133 How was it my French didn't go, and your
1890 W. JAMES Princ. Psychol. II. xxii. 357 In the human child..these
ruptures of contiguous association are very soon made; far off cases of
*sign-using arise when we make a sign now; and soon language is
launched. 1938 C. W. MORRIS Found. of Theory of Signs i. 1 Men are the
dominant sign-using animals. 1957 C. E. OSGOOD et al. Measurement of
Meaning i. 3 The behavior of the sign-using organism.
1894 N. & Q. 8th Ser. V. 6/1 It is a *sign-word only, not a term of
1871 J. CALLINGHAM Sign Writing i. 1 It is curious that the term
*sign-writer is not to be found in any encyclopædia or dictionary,
ancient or modern... Even Kelly's ponderous Post Office London
Directory does not deem the sign-writer worthy of separate enumeration
in its list of trades. 1977 J. MCCLURE Sunday Hangman xiii. 151 A family
of losers trying to find the right words for the signwriter.
1871 J. CALLINGHAM (title) *Sign writing. 1954 J. WYNDHAM Jizzle 49
Elmer was a house-painter who doubled in the less spacious art of
sign-writing. 1978 Dumfries & Galloway Standard 21 Oct. 21/2 (Advt.),
All types of signwriting undertaken.
b. Special combs., as sign-behaviour, behaviour that is dependent on
a sign (sense 7); sign bit Computers, a sign digit located in a sequence
of binary digits; sign-design (see quot. 1942); sign digit Computers, a
digit, located in a sequence of digits, whose value depends on the
algebraic sign of the number represented; sign-event, a particular
occurrence of the use of a sign (sense 7); sign-process, the process
whereby a token or indication becomes operative or functions as a sign;
sign stimulus Biol., the component or characteristic of an external
stimulus which is effective in initiating a particular innate
behavioural response in an animal perceiving it, regardless of the
presence or absence of the remainder of the stimulus; sign-vehicle, the
token or indication that acts as a sign.
1946 C. W. MORRIS Signs, Lang. & Behav. i. 7 And goal-seeking
behavior in which signs exercise control may be called sign-behavior.
1964 GOULD & KOLB Dict. Soc. Sci. 641/2 Sigh-behaviour is found in all
levels of animal life.
1962 Gloss. Terms Automatic Data Proc. (B.S.I.) 19 Where the sign digit
is a binary digit it is often known as a sign bit. 1975 T. BARTEE
Introd. Computer Sci. ii. 47 The sign bit is set apart from the
magnitude bits by a . in each word... An alternate technique uses a box
for the sign bit.
1942 R. CARNAP Introd. Semantics §3.5 The word sign is ambiguous. =
means sometimes a single object or event, sometimes a kind to which many
objects belong. Whenever necessary, we shall use sign-event in the
first case, sign-design in the second. 1944 Mind LIII. 36 The
sign-design is what is usually meant when we use such words as symbol=
word, sentence. It is the form or structure common to a set of
actual occurrences (sounds, marks, gestures) whereby they function
symbolically. 1974 M. TAYLOR tr. Metz's Film Lang. iii. 90 Between
wordspure sign events as they are called in American semiotics, event=
that never occur twice..and language..there is room for the study of
sign designs, sentence patterns.
1947 A. W. BURKS et al. in J. von Neumann Coll. Wks. (1963) V. 46 Our
numbers are 40 digit aggregates, the left-most digit being the sign
digit. 1950 Proc. R. Soc. A. CCII. 574 The first digit is regarded as a
sign digit and a binary point supposed to exist before the second
digit. 1969 J. J. SPARKES Transistor Switching viii. 194 The sign digit
is normally o for positive numbers.
1942 Sign-event [see sign-design above]. 1973 Screen Spring/Summer 164
Spoken words..are pure sign-events incapable of being reproduced twic=
over and therefore impossible to study scientifically.
1946 C. W. MORRIS Signs, Lang. & Behav. i. 3 Terms which are commonly
used in describing sign-processes. 1957 C. E. OSGOOD et al. Measurement
of Meaning i. 5 A first step toward a behavioral interpretation of the
1934 E. S. RUSSELL Behaviour of Animals ii. 33 The principle of
representative stimuli, or sign stimuli as we may call them for short,
is illustrated not only in the flight reactions of animals..but even
more clearly in..food-finding behaviour. 1967 A. MANNING Introd. Animal
Behaviour iii. 39 There are many examples of auditory and chemical
sign-stimuli too. Turkey hens which are breeding for the first time will
accept as chicks any object which makes the typical cheeping call. On
the other hand..deaf turkey hens kill most of their chicks because they
never receive the auditory sign-stimulus for parental behaviour. 1975,
1980 Sign stimulus [see RELEASER c].
1938 C. W. MORRIS Found. of Theory of Signs i. 4 In such cases S is the
sign vehicle.., D the designatum, and I the interpretant of the
interpreter. 1955 T. H. PEAR Eng. Soc. Differences i. 33 Status symbols
are sign-vehicles, cues which determine the status to be imputed to a
[f. SIGNIFIC-ANCE, on the analogy of forms in -ics (see -IC 2).
Introduced by Lady Welby in 1896.]
A proposed science and educational method based upon the importance
of realizing the exact significance of terms and conceptions, and their
influence on thought and life.
The terms signific(al adjs., significally adv., and significian n.,
have also been employed.
1896 LADY WELBY in Mind (Jan.) 32 Taking advantage of the child's
endless store of interest and curiosity, it ought to be easy to make
Significs or Sensifics the most attractive of studies. 1903 Ib=
161 Significs, then, will bring us the philosophy of Significance, i.e.
a raising of our whole conception of meaning to a higher and more
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