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  1. Informal. kissing, caressing, and other sexual activity between partners that does not involve sexual intercourse.Compare heavy petting.

Origin of petting

First recorded in 1870–75; pet1 + -ing1


  1. any domesticated or tamed animal that is kept as a companion and cared for affectionately.
  2. a person especially cherished or indulged; favorite: He was the teacher's pet.
  3. a thing particularly cherished.
  1. kept or treated as a pet: a pet lamb.
  2. especially cherished or indulged, as a child or other person.
  3. favorite; most preferred: a pet theory.
  4. showing fondness or affection: to address someone with pet words.
verb (used with object), pet·ted, pet·ting.
  1. to fondle or caress: to pet a dog.
  2. to treat as a pet; indulge.
verb (used without object), pet·ted, pet·ting.
  1. Informal. to engage in kissing, caressing, and other sexual activity with one’s partner, but not sexual intercourse.

Origin of pet1

1500–10; (noun) perhaps back formation from pet lamb cade lamb, shortened variant of petty lamb little lamb (see petty); (v.) derivative of the noun
Related formspet·ta·ble, adjective


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9. baby, humor, pamper, favor.


  1. a fit of peevishness, sulking, or bad mood.
verb (used without object)
  1. to be peevish; sulk.

Origin of pet2

1580–90; origin uncertain; cf. pettish
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for petting

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • At first suspicious and hostile, White Fang grew to like this petting.

    White Fang

    Jack London

  • Growl he would, from the moment the petting began till it ended.

    White Fang

    Jack London

  • We have been petting the children, and, like other children, these are a trifle too observant.

  • And to tell the truth, it was not often he got a chance of petting his big brother's dormice.

  • All the new faces, and the petting, were a revelation to Zekal.

    The Bondwoman

    Marah Ellis Ryan

British Dictionary definitions for petting


  1. a tame animal kept in a household for companionship, amusement, etc
  2. a person who is fondly indulged; favouriteteacher's pet
  1. kept as a peta pet dog
  2. of or for pet animalspet food
  3. particularly cherished; favouritea pet theory; a pet hatred
  4. familiar or affectionatea pet name
  5. pet day Scot and Irish a single fine day during a period of bad weather
verb pets, petting or petted
  1. (tr) to treat (a person, animal, etc) as a pet; pamper
  2. (tr) to pat or fondle (an animal, child, etc)
  3. (intr) informal (of two people) to caress each other in an erotic manner, as during lovemaking (often in the phrase heavy petting)
Derived Formspetter, noun

Word Origin

C16: origin unknown


  1. a fit of sulkiness, esp at what is felt to be a slight; pique
verb pets, petting or petted
  1. (intr) to take offence; sulk

Word Origin

C16: of uncertain origin


abbreviation for
  1. positron emission tomography
n acronym for
  1. potentially exempt transfer: a procedure in the UK whereby gifting property and cash is tax-free, provided that the donor lives for at least seven years after the gift is made
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 petting


1873, "fondling indulgence," verbal noun from pet (v.). Meaning "amorous caressing, foreplay" is from 1920 (in F. Scott Fitzgerald).



"tamed animal," originally in Scottish and northern England dialect (and exclusively so until mid-18c.), of unknown origin. Sense of "indulged child" (c.1500) is recorded slightly earlier than that of "animal kept as a favorite" (1530s), but the latter may be the primary meaning. Probably associated with or influenced by petty. As a term of endearment by 1849. Teacher's pet is attested from 1890. Pet-shop from 1928.



"peevishness, offense at feeling slighted," 1580s, in phrase take the pet "take offense." Perhaps from pet (n.1) on a similar notion to that in American English that gets my goat, but the underlying notion is obscure, and the form of the original expression makes this doubtful. This word seems to have been originally a southern English term, while pet (n.1) was northern and Scottish.



1620s, "treat as a pet," from pet (n.1). Sense of "to stroke" is first found 1818. Slang sense of "kiss and caress" is from 1920 (implied in petting). Related: Petted.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

petting in Medicine


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

Idioms and Phrases with petting


In addition to the idiom beginning with pet

also see:

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