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  1. a point or pointed part projecting backward from a main point, as of a fishhook or arrowhead.
  2. an obviously or openly unpleasant or carping remark.
  3. Botany, Zoology. a hooked or sharp bristle.
  4. Ornithology. one of the processes attached to the rachis of a feather.
  5. one of a breed of domestic pigeons, similar to the carriers or homers, having a short, broad bill.
  6. any of numerous, small, Old World cyprinid fishes of the genera Barbus and Puntius, often kept in aquariums.
  7. Usually barbs. Veterinary Pathology. a small protuberance under the tongue in horses and cattle, especially when inflamed and swollen.
  8. Also barbe. a linen covering for the throat and breast, formerly worn by women mourners and now only by some nuns.
  9. Obsolete. a beard.
verb (used with object)
  1. to furnish with a barb or barbs.

Origin of barb1

1300–50; Middle English barbe < Middle FrenchLatin barba beard or beardlike projection


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1. spur, spike, prong, barbule; snag, prickle, spicule.


  1. one of a breed of horses raised originally in Barbary.

Origin of barb2

1630–40; < French barbe, shortened form of Italian barbero Barbary steed, equivalent to Barber(ia) Barbary + -o masculine noun suffix


noun Slang.
  1. barbiturate.

Origin of barb3

by shortening
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for barbs

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • Then it seemed as if the barbs had caught in its clothing and held it there.

    Good Indian

    B. M. Bower

  • With hooks, barbs, and glands they cling to the covering of animals.

    Seed Dispersal

    William J. Beal

  • The barbs carried the harpoon through the air like the wings of a bird.

    The Later Cave-Men

    Katharine Elizabeth Dopp

  • Afterward the Cave-men fished with harpoons which had barbs on only one side.

    The Later Cave-Men

    Katharine Elizabeth Dopp

  • Caught in the barbs of the wire, wedged in, the bodies hung suspended.

    The Octopus

    Frank Norris

British Dictionary definitions for barbs


  1. a subsidiary point facing in the opposite direction to the main point of a fish-hook, harpoon, arrow, etc, intended to make extraction difficult
  2. any of various pointed parts, as on barbed wire
  3. a cutting remark; gibe
  4. any of the numerous hairlike filaments that form the vane of a feather
  5. a beardlike growth in certain animals
  6. a hooked hair or projection on certain fruits
  7. any small cyprinid fish of the genus Barbus (or Puntius) and related genera, such as B. conchonius (rosy barb)
  8. (usually plural) any of the small fleshy protuberances beneath the tongue in horses and cattle
  9. a white linen cloth forming part of a headdress extending from the chin to the upper chest, originally worn by women in the Middle Ages, now worn by nuns of some orders
  10. obsolete a beard
  1. (tr) to provide with a barb or barbs
Derived Formsbarbed, adjective

Word Origin

C14: from Old French barbe beard, point, from Latin barba beard


  1. a breed of horse of North African origin, similar to the Arab but less spirited

Word Origin

C17: from French barbe, from Italian barbero a Barbary (horse)


  1. Australian a black kelpieSee kelpie 1

Word Origin

C19: named after one that was named Barb after a winning racehorse


n acronym for (in Britain)
  1. Broadcasters' Audience Research Board
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for barbs



late 15c., "to clip, mow;" see barb (n.). Meaning "to fit or furnish with barbs" is from 1610s. Related: Barbed; barbing.



late 14c., "barb of an arrow," from Old French barbe (11c.) "beard, beardlike appendage," from Latin barba "beard," perhaps cognate with Old English beard (see beard (n.)).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

barbs in Science


  1. A sharp point projecting backward, as on the stinger of a bee.
  2. One of the hairlike branches on the shaft of a feather.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.