- a fight, battle, or skirmish.
- a competition or contest, especially in sports.
- a noisy quarrel or brawl.
- Archaic. fright.
- Archaic. to frighten.
- Archaic. to fight or brawl.
Origin of fray1
This fray was borrowed into English from an Anglo-French word with the various meanings “to disturb,” “to attack,” and also “to frighten.” The past participle of this same word ( affrayed, meaning “alarmed”) became, in English, afraid.
While nowadays frays are things that people willingly “enter” or “join” or even “throw themselves into,” early in its history the fear aspect dominated. And so, in the 1300s, one could speak of frayes and dredes (fears and dreads) and in the 1500s, one might find a fray-boggard (fear-goblin) in the garden, a frightening specter better known to us as a scarecrow.
- to wear (cloth, rope, etc.) to loose, raveled threads or fibers at the edge or end; cause to ravel out: Our old washing machine frayed all of our towels.
- to wear by rubbing (sometimes followed by through).
- to cause strain on (something); upset; discompose: All that arguing is fraying my nerves.
- to rub.
- to wear into loose, raveled threads or fibers, as cloth; ravel out: My sweater frayed at the elbows.
- to become strained or stressed: Jealousy could be a sign that your relationship is fraying.
- to rub against something: tall grass fraying against my knees.
- a raveled or worn part, as in cloth: frays at the toes of well-worn sneakers.
Origin of fray2
This fray is closely related to the word friction, as both have as a common ancestor the Latin fricāre, meaning “to rub.” It makes sense—given enough friction, things will begin to fray. But language isn’t always so neat. One early sense of fray that existed in the 1400s, but which has since fallen out of use, meant “to bruise” (as in, with our strokes we shall fray him ). In a translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses dating from the 1500s, this very same sense in a different context is used to mean “deflower” (deprive of virginity). Can we connect the dots from rub to bruise to deflower? Therein lies the rub.
- "Shall we play the coward, then, and leave the hard knocks for our daughters, or shall we throw ourselves into the fray, bare our own shoulders to the blows, and thus bequeath to them a politically liberated womanhood?"-Carrie Chapman Catt The Crisis (delivered September 7, 1916)
- "The Portuguese [referees] offered no brotherly love to Pelé by fouling him seven times, eventually forcing his withdrawal from the fray."-Tony Mason Passion of the people?: Football in South America (1995)
- "Pedestrians attempted to squeeze by and avoid being pulled into the loud fray between the two draymen."-Georgina Flemming The Light to My Darkness (1992)
- "[O]nce more he set to work on the laborious task of fraying through his ropes."-John Russell Fearn and Philip Harbottle Liquid Death and Other Stories (2002)
- "The heat and hunger frayed men's tempers."-Colin Falconer When We Were Gods: A Novel of Cleopatra (2000)
- "Tempers fray and arguments flare as motorists exchange expletives over the last parking space."-Andrew Holmes and Dan Wilson Pains in Public: 50 People Most Likely to Drive You Completely Nuts! (2004)
Examples from the Web for frayed
Under the table, I could see that his combat boots were actually black sneakers, frayed at the seams.Local Truces Are Syria’s Sad Little Pieces of Peace
November 18, 2014
In this aqua blanket with its frayed edges I smelled home: warm laundry, bacon frying, coffee and cigarettes.‘Tracing the Blue Light’: Read Chapter 1 of Eileen Cronin’s ‘Mermaid’
April 8, 2014
Family—imperfect, frustrating, beautiful family—whose bonds last when other ties have frayed.The True Gifts of Christmas Are Life, Love, and the Mystery of God
December 25, 2013
“The basic bargain at the heart of our economy has frayed,” Obama said, noting that even Pope Francis has addressed the issue.Obama Income Inequality Speech Previews a 2016 Democratic Split
December 5, 2013
A frayed, foreshortened square of cloth is produced, a remnant of some great emotion.Boys Don’t Cry: In Praise of Sentiment
Andrew Sean Greer
June 26, 2013
"My collar's got a frayed edge," he complained, as she examined his troublesome shirt.Alice Adams
A piece of frayed rope dangled on its neck, but the pump-handle was gone.The Monkey That Would Not Kill
As he watched, a few bubbles began to appear near the frayed spot.Poppa Needs Shorts
From this last fell another letter, yellowed by time and frayed on the folds.Lord Jim
Garrison had been on the firing-line for so long that his nerve was frayed to ribbons.Garrison's Finish
W. B. M. Ferguson
- a noisy quarrel
- a fight or brawl
- an archaic word for fright
- (tr) to frighten
- to wear or cause to wear away into tatters or loose threads, esp at an edge or end
- to make or become strained or irritated
- to rub or chafe (another object) or (of two objects) to rub against one another
- a frayed place, as in cloth
Word Origin and History for frayed
"worn by rubbing," 1814, past participle adjective from fray (v.).