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  1. a widely distributed cereal plant belonging to the genus Hordeum, of the grass family, having awned flowers that grow in tightly bunched spikes, with three small additional spikes at each node.
  2. the grain of this plant, used as food and in making beer, ale, and whiskey.

Origin of barley1

before 1000; Middle English; Old English bærlīc (adj.), equivalent to bær- (variant of bere barley; akin to Old Norse barr barley, Gothic barizeins made of barley, Serbo-Croatian brȁšno flour, Latin far emmer; all < European Indo-European *bHaer- spike, prickle, perhaps akin to beard) + -līc -ly


noun, plural bar·leys. Scot. and North England.
  1. a truce or quarter, especially in children's games; parley.

Origin of barley2

1805–15; probably to be identified with Scots barley, burley, birlie local customary law (Compare birleyman arbiter, birleycourt neighborhood court), variant of birlaw, Medieval Latin birlawe, birelegia, birelag < Old Norse *býjarlagu, equivalent to býjar, genitive singular of býr town (cf. bower1, byre) + *lagu law1; compare bylaw
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for barley


  1. any of various erect annual temperate grasses of the genus Hordeum, esp H. vulgare, that have short leaves and dense bristly flower spikes and are widely cultivated for grain and forage
  2. the grain of any of these grasses, used in making beer and whisky and for soups, puddings, etcSee also pearl barley

Word Origin

Old English bærlīc (adj); related to bere barley, Old Norse barr barley, Gothic barizeins of barley, Latin farīna flour


sentence substitute
  1. dialect a cry for truce or respite from the rules of a game

Word Origin

C18: probably changed from parley
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 barley


Old English bærlic, originally an adjective, "of barley," from bere "barley" (from Proto-Germanic *bariz, *baraz) + -lic "body, like." First element is related to Old Norse barr "barley," and cognate with Latin far (genitive farris) "coarse grain, meal;" probably from PIE *bhars- "bristle, point, projection" (see bristle (n.)).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper