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verb (used without object), fret·ted, fret·ting.
  1. to feel or express worry, annoyance, discontent, or the like: Fretting about the lost ring isn't going to help.
  2. to cause corrosion; gnaw into something: acids that fret at the strongest metals.
  3. to make a way by gnawing, corrosion, wearing away, etc.: The river frets at its banks until a new channel is formed.
  4. to become eaten, worn, or corroded (often followed by away): Limestone slowly frets away under pounding by the wind and rain.
  5. to move in agitation or commotion, as water: water fretting over the stones of a brook.
verb (used with object), fret·ted, fret·ting.
  1. to torment; irritate, annoy, or vex: You mustn't fret yourself about that.
  2. to wear away or consume by gnawing, friction, rust, corrosives, etc.: the ocean fretting its shores.
  3. to form or make by wearing away a substance: The river had fretted an underground passage.
  4. to agitate (water): Strong winds were fretting the channel.
  1. an irritated state of mind; annoyance; vexation.
  2. erosion; corrosion; gnawing.
  3. a worn or eroded place.

Origin of fret1

before 900; Middle English freten, Old English fretan to eat up, consume; cognate with Old Saxon fretan, Gothic fraitan, Old High German frezzan (German fressen)
Related formsfret·ter, noun


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1. fume, rage. 6. worry, harass, goad, tease. 7. erode, gnaw, corrode, abrade, grind, rub, rust. 10. harassment, agitation, worry.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018
British Dictionary definitions for fretter


verb frets, fretting or fretted
  1. to distress or be distressed; worry
  2. to rub or wear away
  3. to irritate or be irritated; feel or give annoyance or vexation
  4. to eat away or be eaten away by chemical action; corrode
  5. (intr) (of a road surface) to become loose so that potholes develop; scab
  6. to agitate (water) or (of water) to be agitated
  7. (tr) to make by wearing away; erode
  1. a state of irritation or anxiety
  2. the result of fretting; corrosion
  3. a hole or channel caused by fretting

Word Origin

Old English fretan to eat; related to Old High German frezzan, Gothic fraitan, Latin peredere


  1. a repetitive geometrical figure, esp one used as an ornamental border
  2. such a pattern made in relief and with numerous small openings; fretwork
  3. heraldry a charge on a shield consisting of a mascle crossed by a saltire
verb frets, fretting or fretted
  1. (tr) to ornament with fret or fretwork
Derived Formsfretless, adjective

Word Origin

C14: from Old French frete interlaced design used on a shield, probably of Germanic origin


  1. any of several small metal bars set across the fingerboard of a musical instrument of the lute, guitar, or viol family at various points along its length so as to produce the desired notes when the strings are stopped by the fingers
Derived Formsfretless, adjective

Word Origin

C16: of unknown origin


  1. short for sea fret
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 fretter



"be peevish or worried," early 12c., from Old English fretan "eat, devour" (in Old English used of monsters and Vikings; in Middle English used of animals' eating), from Proto-Germanic compound *fra- "for-" + *etan "to eat" (cf. Dutch vreton, Old High German freggan, German fressen, Gothic fraitan). Transitive sense of "eat away" is from late 12c. Figurative sense of "irritate, worry, eat one's heart out" is c.1200. Modern German still distinguishes essen for humans and fressen for animals. Related: Fretted; fretting. As a noun, from early 15c.



"ornamental interlaced pattern," late 14c., from Old French frete "interlaced work, trellis work," probably from Frankish *fetur or another Germanic source (cf. Old English fetor, Old High German feggara "fetter") perhaps from notion of "decorative anklet," or of materials "bound" together. The other noun, "ridge on the fingerboard of a guitar," is c.1500 of unknown origin but possibly another sense of Old French frete.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper