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Blech. These are the grossest words.


[brit-l] /ˈbrɪt l/
adjective, brittler, brittlest.
having hardness and rigidity but little tensile strength; breaking readily with a comparatively smooth fracture, as glass.
easily damaged or destroyed; fragile; frail:
a brittle marriage.
lacking warmth, sensitivity, or compassion; aloof; self-centered:
a self-possessed, cool, and rather brittle person.
having a sharp, tense quality:
a brittle tone of voice.
unstable or impermanent; evanescent.
a confection of melted sugar, usually with nuts, brittle when cooled:
peanut brittle.
verb (used without object), brittled, brittling.
to be or become brittle; crumble.
Origin of brittle
1350-1400; Middle English britel, equivalent to brit- (akin to Old English brysten fragment) + -el adj. suffix
Related forms
brittleness, noun
unbrittle, adjective
unbrittleness, noun
Can be confused
brittle, fragile, frail (see synonym study at frail)
1. fragile. See frail1 . Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for brittle
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • The colonel's son moved closer, and a wisp of brittle grass in her hands crackled in a double grasp.

  • It was brittle in the creases, and threatened to fall apart.

    In Her Own Right John Reed Scott
  • When they get terrifically excited, they jig up and down on the holly-branches and the frozen snow falls with a brittle clatter.

    Christmas Outside of Eden Coningsby Dawson
  • The cedar of which they are chiefly built is very buoyant, but also brittle.

    The Sailor's Word-Book William Henry Smyth
  • The nails are thin, brittle and lined; at times small hemorrhages will be noted beneath them.

    Scurvy Past and Present Alfred Fabian Hess
British Dictionary definitions for brittle


easily cracked, snapped, or broken; fragile
curt or irritable: a brittle reply
hard or sharp in quality
a crunchy sweet made with treacle and nuts: peanut brittle
Derived Forms
brittlely, brittly, adverb
Word Origin
C14: from Old English brytel (unattested); related to brytsen fragment, brēotan to break
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 brittle

late 14c., britel, perhaps from an unrecorded Old English adjective *brytel, related to brytan "to crush, pound, to break to pieces," from Proto-Germanic stem *brutila- "brittle," from *breutan "to break up" (cf. Old Norse brjota "to break," Old High German brodi "fragile"), and related to bruise (v.). With -le, suffix forming adjectives with meaning "liable to."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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brittle in Science
Having a tendency to break when subject to high stress. Brittle materials have undergone very little strain when they reach their elastic limit, and tend to break at that limit. Compare ductile.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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brittle in Technology

Said of software that is functional but easily broken by changes in operating environment or configuration, or by any minor tweak to the software itself. Also, any system that responds inappropriately and disastrously to abnormal but expected external stimuli; e.g. a file system that is usually totally scrambled by a power failure is said to be brittle. This term is often used to describe the results of a research effort that were never intended to be robust, but it can be applied to commercially developed software, which displays the quality far more often than it ought to.
Opposite of robust.
[Jargon File]

The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, © Denis Howe 2010
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