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cornerstone

[kawr-ner-stohn]
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noun
  1. a stone uniting two masonry walls at an intersection.
  2. a stone representing the nominal starting place in the construction of a monumental building, usually carved with the date and laid with appropriate ceremonies.
  3. something that is essential, indispensable, or basic: The cornerstone of democratic government is a free press.
  4. the chief foundation on which something is constructed or developed: The cornerstone of his argument was that all people are created equal.

Origin of cornerstone

Middle English word dating back to 1250–1300; see origin at corner, stone
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for cornerstone

cornerstone

noun
  1. a stone at the corner of a wall, uniting two intersecting walls; quoin
  2. a stone placed at the corner of a building during a ceremony to mark the start of construction
  3. a person or thing of prime importance; basisthe cornerstone of the whole argument
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 cornerstone

n.

late 13c., from corner (n.) + stone (n.). The figurative use is from early 14c.

I endorse without reserve the much abused sentiment of Governor M'Duffie, that "Slavery is the corner-stone of our republican edifice;" while I repudiate, as ridiculously absurd, that much lauded but nowhere accredited dogma of Mr. Jefferson, that "all men are born equal." No society has ever yet existed, and I have already incidentally quoted the highest authority to show that none ever will exist, without a natural variety of classes. [James H. Hammond, "Letter to an English Abolitionist" 1845]
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper