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[pee-ter] /ˈpi tər/
verb (used without object), peter out
to diminish gradually and stop; dwindle to nothing:
The hot water always peters out in the middle of my shower.
to tire; exhaust (usually used as a past participle):
I'm petered out after that walk.
Origin of peter1
1805-15, in sense “put an end to”; 1860-65 for def 1; origin uncertain Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for peter out
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • I should be sorry to see the poem "peter out," or "soak in."

  • She's a rich one, and bein' so rich at the start she'll peter out fast, I take it.

    Overland Red Henry Herbert Knibbs
  • "Going to peter out I reckon," Abe answered with a sorrowful look.

    A Man for the Ages Irving Bacheller
  • Even rejoicings can get overfed and peter out into ginger tea.

    Rose of Old Harpeth Maria Thompson Daviess
  • They might, indeed, "peter out" as the expression is, but it did not seem likely.

    Do and Dare Horatio Alger, Jr.
  • I suspicioned he'd peter out when Pap Spooner died, but he fooled us the worst kind.

    Bunch Grass Horace Annesley Vachell
  • I wouldn't be a whole lot surprised if they give us an awful fight before they peter out.

    Hopalong Cassidy Clarence E. Mulford
  • Before Christmas, though, she began to peter out 'n' git slack-twisted.

    The Village Watch-Tower (AKA Kate Douglas Riggs) Kate Douglas Wiggin
  • Then all I hope is the storm will peter out before dawn, so we can start for the river right away.

British Dictionary definitions for peter out


(intransitive; foll by out or away) to fall (off) in volume, intensity, etc, and finally cease: the cash petered out in three months
Word Origin
C19: of unknown origin


verb (intransitive)
to play a high card before a low one in a suit, usually a conventional signal of a doubleton holding or of strength in that suit
the act of petering
Word Origin
C20: perhaps a special use of peter1 (to fall off in power)


noun (slang)
a safe, till, or cash box
a prison cell
the witness box in a courtroom
(mainly US) a slang word for penis
Word Origin
C17 (meaning a case): from the name Peter


noun (New Testament)
Saint. Also called: Simon Peter. died ?67 ad, a fisherman of Bethsaida, who became leader of the apostles and is regarded by Roman Catholics as the first pope; probably martyred at Rome. Feast day: June 29 or Jan 18
either of two epistles traditionally ascribed to Peter (in full The First Epistle and The Second Epistle of Peter)
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 peter out


masc. proper name, 12c., from Old English Petrus (genitive Pet(e)res, dative Pet(e)re), from Latin Petrus, from Greek Petros, literally "stone, rock," translation of Syriac kefa "stone" (Latinized as Cephas), nickname Jesus gave to apostle Simon Bar-Jona (Matt. xvi:17), historically known as St. Peter, and consequently a popular name among Christians (e.g. Italian Pietro, Spanish and Portuguese Pedro, Old French Pierres, French Pierre, etc.). Slang for "penis" is attested from 1902, probably from identity of first syllable.

The common form of this very common name in medieval England was Peres (Anglo-French Piers), hence surnames Pierce, Pearson, etc. Among the diminutive forms were Parkin and Perkin. To rob Peter to pay Paul (1510s, also in early 17c. French as descouvrir S. Pierre pour couvrir S. Pol) might be a reference to the many churches dedicated to those two saints, and have sprung from the fairly common practice of building or enriching one church with the ruins or revenues of another. But the alliterative pairing of the two names is attested from c.1400 with no obvious connection to the saints:

Sum medicyne is for peter þat is not good for poul, for þe diuersite of complexioun. [Lanfranc's "Chirurgia Magna," English translation]



"cease, stop," 1812, of uncertain origin. To peter out "become exhausted," is 1846 as miners' slang. Related: Petered; petering.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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peter out in Culture

Peter definition

Chief among the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, he was a fisherman, originally named Simon (and often called Simon Peter). Jesus gave him the name Rock, of which “Peter” is a translation. Peter showed great faith but also exhibited great failings (see Get thee behind me, Satan). In the frightening hours before the Crucifixion, Peter three times denied being a follower of Jesus, just as Jesus had predicted he would. Nevertheless, Peter went on to become the leader of the early Christians (see Pentecost), thus fulfilling another prophecy of Jesus, who had said of Peter, “Upon this rock I will build my church.... And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”

Note: Peter is often depicted holding keys. Roman Catholics maintain a number of traditions about Peter: that he was the first of the popes, for example, and that he was martyred at Rome by being crucified upside down, because he refused to be crucified as Jesus had been.
Note: The great church of the Vatican, Saint Peter's Basilica, was later built on what was believed to be the site of his burial.
The 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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Slang definitions & phrases for peter out

peter out

verb phrase

To become exhausted; dwindle away in strength, amount, etc: They ran well the first mile or so, then petered out

[1858+; origin unknown; a 1908 article says it may be fr peterboat, a sharp double-ended vessel, hence ''grow small or thin'']

peter 1


A safe; strongbox; vault

[1859+ Underworld; origin unknown]

peter 2


The penis

[1902+; fr the association with pee, ''urine'']

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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Idioms and Phrases with peter out

peter out

Dwindle or diminish and come to an end, as in Their enthusiasm soon petered out. The origin of this usage is unknown, but one authority suggests it may refer to the apostle Peter, whose enthusiastic support of Jesus quickly diminished so that he denied knowing him three times during the night after Jesus's arrest. [ Mid-1800s ]
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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