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[dih-fawlt] /dɪˈfɔlt/
failure to act; inaction or neglect:
They lost their best client by sheer default.
failure to meet financial obligations.
Law. failure to perform an act or obligation legally required, especially to appear in court or to plead at a time assigned.
Sports. failure to arrive in time for, participate in, or complete a scheduled match.
lack; want; absence.
Computers. a value that a program or operating system assumes, or a course of action that a program or operating system will take, when the user or programmer specifies no overriding value or action.
verb (used without object)
to fail in fulfilling or satisfying an engagement, claim, or obligation.
to fail to meet financial obligations or to account properly for money in one's care:
When he defaulted in his payments, the bank foreclosed on the car.
Law. to fail to appear in court.
  1. to fail to participate in or complete a match.
  2. to lose a match by default.
verb (used with object)
to fail to perform or pay:
to default a debt.
to declare to be in default, especially legally:
The judge defaulted the defendant.
  1. to fail to compete in (a scheduled game, race, etc.).
  2. to lose by default.
Law. to lose by failure to appear in court.
Origin of default
1175-1225; Middle English defau(l)te < Anglo-French defalte, Old French defaute, derivative of defaillir, after faute, faillir. See de-, fault, fail
Related forms
nondefaulting, adjective, noun
predefault, noun, verb
undefaulted, adjective
undefaulting, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for default
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • In default of identification, it would be turned over for burial among the pauper dead.

    The Tempering Charles Neville Buck
  • But in default of survivors, had not the sea thrown up some of the corpses?

    Godfrey Morgan Jules Verne
  • In default of language, I looked Miss Sawley straight in the face, and attempted a substitute for a sigh.

  • Not even in default of houses a cabin, a hut, an ajoupa, or a wigwam?

    Godfrey Morgan Jules Verne
  • The property and effects of the mother pass to her children, and in default of them, to her sisters, own and collateral.

    Ancient Society Lewis Henry Morgan
British Dictionary definitions for default


a failure to act, esp a failure to meet a financial obligation or to appear in a court of law at a time specified
absence or lack
by default, in the absence of opposition or a better alternative: he became prime minister by default
in default of, through or in the lack or absence of
(law) judgment by default, a judgment in the plaintiff's favour when the defendant fails to plead or to appear
lack, want, or need
(computing) (also) (ˈdiːfɔːlt)
  1. the preset selection of an option offered by a system, which will always be followed except when explicitly altered
  2. (as modifier): default setting
(intransitive; often foll by on or in) to fail to make payment when due
(intransitive) to fail to fulfil or perform an obligation, engagement, etc: to default in a sporting contest
(law) to lose (a case) by failure to appear in court
(transitive) to declare that (someone) is in default
Word Origin
C13: from Old French defaute, from defaillir to fail, from Vulgar Latin dēfallīre (unattested) to be lacking
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 default

early 13c., "offense, crime, sin," later (late 13c.) "failure, failure to act," from Old French defaute (12c.) "fault, defect, failure, culpability, lack, privation," from Vulgar Latin *defallita "a deficiency or failure," past participle of *defallere, from Latin de- "away" (see de-) + fallere "to deceive, to cheat; to put wrong, to lead astray, cause to be mistaken; to escape notice of, be concealed from" (see fail (v.)). The financial sense is first recorded 1858; the computing sense is from 1966.


late 14c., "be lacking, be missing," also "become weak," from default (n.). Related: Defaulted; defaulting.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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default in Culture

default definition

Failure to pay a debt when it is due.

The American Heritage® 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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default in Technology
The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, © Denis Howe 2010
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Idioms and Phrases with default


The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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