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  1. that which is carried; load: a horse's burden of rider and pack.
  2. that which is borne with difficulty; obligation; onus: the burden of leadership.
  3. Nautical.
    1. the weight of a ship's cargo.
    2. the carrying capacity of a ship.
  4. Mining. overburden(def 3).
  5. Metallurgy. the minerals charged into a blast furnace or steelmaking furnace.
  6. Accounting. overhead(def 6).
verb (used with object)
  1. to load heavily.
  2. to load oppressively; trouble.

Origin of burden1

before 1000; Middle English, variant of burthen, Old English byrthen; akin to German Bürde, Gothic baurthei; see bear1
Related formsbur·den·er, nounbur·den·less, adjective


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2. weight, encumbrance, impediment. 8. weigh down, saddle, try, afflict, perturb, plague, grieve, vex.

Synonym study

1. See load.


  1. the main point, message, or idea.
  2. Music. the refrain or recurring chorus of a song.

Origin of burden2

1275–1325; Middle English bordoun, burdoun < Old French bourdon droning sound, instrument making such a sound


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1. substance, core, crux, nucleus, essence.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for burden


  1. something that is carried; load
  2. something that is exacting, oppressive, or difficult to bearthe burden of responsibility Related adjective: onerous
  3. nautical
    1. the cargo capacity of a ship
    2. the weight of a ship's cargo
verb (tr)
  1. (sometimes foll by up) to put or impose a burden on; load
  2. to weigh down; oppressthe old woman was burdened with cares

Word Origin

Old English byrthen; related to beran to bear 1, Old Frisian berthene burden, Old High German burdin


  1. a line of words recurring at the end of each verse of a ballad or similar song; chorus or refrain
  2. the principal or recurrent theme of a speech, book, etc
  3. another word for bourdon

Word Origin

C16: from Old French bourdon bass horn, droning sound, of imitative origin
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 burden


"a load," Old English byrðen "a load, weight, charge, duty;" also "a child;" from Proto-Germanic *burthinjo- "that which is borne" (cf. Old Norse byrðr, Old Saxon burthinnia, German bürde, Gothic baurþei), from PIE root *bher- (1) "to bear, to carry; give birth" (see infer).

The shift from -th- to -d- took place beginning 12c. (cf. murder). Archaic burthen is occasionally retained for the specific sense of "capacity of a ship." Burden of proof is recorded from 1590s.


"leading idea," 1640s, a figurative use from earlier sense "refrain or chorus of a song," 1590s, originally "bass accompaniment to music" (late 14c.), from Old French bordon "bumble-bee, drone," or directly from Medieval Latin burdonom "drone, drone bass" (source of French bourdon, Spanish bordon, Portuguese bordão, Italian bordone), of echoic origin.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper