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or brain-washing, brain washing

[breyn-wosh-ing, -waw-shing] /ˈbreɪnˌwɒʃ ɪŋ, -ˌwɔ ʃɪŋ/
a method for systematically changing attitudes or altering beliefs, originated in totalitarian countries, especially through the use of torture, drugs, or psychological-stress techniques.
any method of controlled systematic indoctrination, especially one based on repetition or confusion:
brainwashing by TV commercials.
an instance of subjecting or being subjected to such techniques:
efforts to halt the brainwashing of captive audiences.
Origin of brainwashing
First recorded in 1945-50; brain + washing


or brain-wash, brain wash

[breyn-wosh, -wawsh] /ˈbreɪnˌwɒʃ, -ˌwɔʃ/
verb (used with object)
to cause (someone) to undergo brainwashing.
the process of brainwashing.
a subjection to brainwashing.
First recorded in 1950-55; back formation from brainwashing
Related forms
brainwasher, noun Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for brainwashing
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • "They certainly did a good job of brainwashing you, boy," Osmond sighed.

    The Blue Tower Evelyn E. Smith
  • But the targets of this brainwashing will do well to look to their Central European neighbours for an antidote.

    After the Rain Sam Vaknin
  • The Lhari don't watch me too closely—they figure that anything I do they'll catch in the brainwashing.

    The Colors of Space Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • They should have done a better job of brainwashing, if they expected him to skulk in like a scared rabbit!

    The Colors of Space Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • The world was going to be run by telepaths, psychosis eliminated by brainwashing, intellect developed by hypnotic suggestion.

    This Crowded Earth Robert Bloch
British Dictionary definitions for brainwashing


(transitive) to effect a radical change in the ideas and beliefs of (a person), esp by methods based on isolation, sleeplessness, hunger, extreme discomfort, pain, and the alternation of kindness and cruelty
Derived Forms
brainwasher, noun
brainwashing, noun
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
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Word Origin and History for brainwashing

1950, a literal translation of Chinese xi nao. A term from the Korean War.



1955 (past participle adjective brainwashed attested from 1953); see brainwashing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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brainwashing in Medicine

brainwashing brain·wash·ing (brān'wŏsh'ĭng)
Inducing a person to modify his or her beliefs, attitudes, or behavior by conditioning through various forms of pressure or torture.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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brainwashing in Culture

brainwashing definition

Indoctrination that forces people to abandon their beliefs in favor of another set of beliefs. Usually associated with military and political interrogation and religious conversion, brainwashing attempts, through prolonged stress, to break down an individual's physical and mental defenses. Brainwashing techniques range from vocal persuasion and threats to punishment, physical deprivation, mind-altering drugs, and severe physical torture.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Slang definitions & phrases for brainwashing



: Your line is persuasive, virtually a brainwash


  1. To cause profound attitudinal changes, usually in a prisoner, by psychological conditioning, supplemented by drugs and physical abuse
  2. To change or influence someone's opinions or attitude by methods less stringent than those used on prisoners: They were brainwashed into joining that crazy cult

[1950s+; fr Chinese hsi nao, ''wash brain,'' which came into US use during and after the Korean War, apparently because of its use by North Koreans and their Chinese allies as custodians of US prisoners of war]

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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