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[preen] /prin/
verb (used with object)
(of animals, especially birds) to trim or dress (feathers, fur, etc.) with the beak or tongue:
The peacock preened itself on the lawn.
to dress (oneself) carefully or smartly; primp:
The king preened himself in his elaborate ceremonial robes.
to pride (oneself) on an achievement, personal quality, etc.:
He preened himself on having been graduated with honors.
verb (used without object)
to make oneself appear striking or smart in dress or appearance:
No amount of careful preening will compensate for poor posture.
to be exultant or proud.
Origin of preen1
late Middle English
1480-90; late Middle English prene, variant of Middle English prunen, proynen (see prune3), perhaps by association with prenen, to stab, pierce (v. use, now dial., of prene preen2), from the pricking action of a bird's beak in preening
Related forms
preener, noun
unpreened, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for preening
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • The parrot sat, preening her plumage, on Long John's shoulder.

    Treasure Island Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Describe the preening of the feathers and explain the meaning of it.

    Ontario Teachers' Manuals: Nature Study Ontario Ministry of Education
  • There was a great variety of them, feeding and preening and chirping in the vines.


    Dallas Lore Sharp
  • And when the rain is over, what a shaking and preening of feathers there is!

    Birds of the Plains Douglas Dewar
  • Minga stood on audacious toes; she bowed like a preening butterfly.

    Under the Law Edwina Stanton Babcock
British Dictionary definitions for preening


(of birds) to maintain (feathers) in a healthy condition by arrangement, cleaning, and other contact with the bill
to dress or array (oneself) carefully; primp
(usually foll by on) to pride or congratulate (oneself)
Derived Forms
preener, noun
Word Origin
C14 preinen, probably from prunen to prune³, influenced by prenen to prick, pin (see preen²); suggestive of the pricking movement of the bird's beak


(Scot) a pin, esp a decorative one
Word Origin
Old English prēon a pin; related to Middle High German pfrieme awl, Dutch priem bodkin
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 preening



"to trim, to dress up," late 14c., perhaps a variation of Middle English proynen, proinen "trim the feather with the beak" (see prune (v.)); or perhaps from Old French poroindre "anoint before," and Old French proignier "round off, prune." Middle English prene (from Old English preon, a general Germanic word) meant "to pin," and probably influenced the form of this word. Watkins, however, connects it with Latin unguere "to smear, anoint."

Because of the popularity of falconry, bird activities formerly were more closely observed and words for them were more precise in English than today.

Youre hawke proynith and not pikith and she prenyth not bot whan she begynnyth at hir leggys, and fetcheth moystour like oyle at hir taill. ["Book of St. Albans," 1486]

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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