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[on-set, awn-] /ˈɒnˌsɛt, ˈɔn-/
a beginning or start:
the onset of winter.
an assault or attack:
an onset of the enemy.
Phonetics. the segment of a syllable preceding the nucleus, as the gr in great.
Compare coda (def 5), core1 (def 14).
Origin of onset
1525-35; on + set, after the verb phrase set on Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for onset
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • The shrieks of women and children blended fearfully with the rattle of musketry and the cry of onset.

    King Philip John S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) Abbott
  • The onset of their attack was invariably sudden and with scarcely any warning.

    Disturbing Sun Robert Shirley Richardson
  • You are more to be feared in the onset than on account of the force of your blows.

    Snnica Vicente Blasco Ibez
  • At the first onset the reptile had used every effort to retreat in that direction.

    The Forest Exiles Mayne Reid
  • The onset was terrific: the second line was broken like the first, and in its rear the red-coated riders appeared.

British Dictionary definitions for onset


an attack; assault
a start; beginning
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 onset

1530s, "attack, assault," from on + set (n.); cf. to set (something) on (someone). Weaker sense of "beginning, start" first recorded 1560s. Figurative use in reference to a calamity, disease, etc. is from 1580s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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onset in Medicine

onset on·set (ŏn'sět')
A beginning; a start, as of a cold.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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