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  1. a small globular or rounded mass of medicinal substance, usually covered with a hard coating, that is to be swallowed whole.
  2. something unpleasant that has to be accepted or endured: Ingratitude is a bitter pill.
  3. Slang. a tiresomely disagreeable person.
  4. Sports Slang. a ball, especially a baseball or golf ball.
  5. the pill. birth-control pill.
  6. pills, British Slang. billiards.
verb (used with object)
  1. to dose with pills.
  2. to form or make into pills.
  3. Slang. to blackball.
verb (used without object)
  1. to form into small, pill-like balls, as the fuzz on a wool sweater.Compare depill.
  1. Take a chill pill! Disparaging Slang. chill pill(def 2).

Origin of pill1

1375–1425; late Middle English pille < Middle Low German, Middle Dutch pilleLatin pilula, diminutive of pila ball; see -ule


verb (used with or without object)
  1. British Dialect. to peel.
  2. Obsolete. to become or cause to become bald.

Origin of pill2

before 1100; Middle English pilen, Old English pilian to skin, peel < Latin pilāre to strip (said of hair). See pile3


verb (used with object) Archaic.
  1. to rob, plunder, or pillage.

Origin of pill3

1150–1200; Middle English; probably conflation of pill2 with Middle French piller (see pillage)
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for pilling

Historical Examples

  • This Pilling it appears married a daughter of Abraham Walch.

    A Journey to America in 1834

    Robert Heywood

  • The best ye could do would be to seize the odd days pilling.

    Back o' the Moon

    Oliver Onions

  • That's why we are pilling and plucking all our feathers off.'

    Tales from the Fjeld

    P. Chr. Asbjrnsen

  • But Pilling, with both his arms, violently forced McStenger from him.

    Tales From Bohemia

    Robert Neilson Stephens

  • Pilling, by his success in conducting the primary school, had won the esteem of Brickville's citizens.

    Tales From Bohemia

    Robert Neilson Stephens

British Dictionary definitions for pilling


  1. a small spherical or ovoid mass of a medicinal substance, intended to be swallowed whole
  2. the pill (sometimes capital) informal an oral contraceptive
  3. something unpleasant that must be endured (esp in the phrase bitter pill to swallow)
  4. slang a ball or disc
  5. a small ball of matted fibres that forms on the surface of a fabric through rubbing
  6. slang an unpleasant or boring person
  1. (tr) to give pills to
  2. (tr) to make pills of
  3. (intr)
    1. to form into small balls
    2. (of a fabric) to form small balls of fibre on its surface through rubbing
  4. (tr) slang to blackball
See also pills

Word Origin

C15: from Middle Flemish pille, from Latin pilula a little ball, from pila ball


  1. archaic, or dialect to peel or skin (something)
  2. archaic to pillage or plunder (a place)
  3. obsolete to make or become bald

Word Origin

Old English pilian, from Latin pilāre to strip
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 pilling



"small ball or round mass of medicine," c.1400, from Middle Dutch or Middle Low German pille and Middle French pile, all from Latin pilula "pill," literally "little ball," diminutive of pila "a ball, playing ball," said to be related to pilus "hair" if the original notion was "hairball." Figurative sense "something disagreeable that must be swallowed" is from 1540s; slang meaning "boring person" is recorded from 1871. The pill "contraceptive pill" is from 1957.



1736, "to dose on pills," from pill (n.). From 1882 as "to form into pills." Related: Pilled; pilling.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

pilling in Medicine


([object Object])
  1. A small pellet or tablet of medicine, often coated, taken by swallowing whole or by chewing.
  2. An oral contraceptive.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Idioms and Phrases with pilling


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

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