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  1. any of a group of elongate elasmobranch, mostly marine fishes, certain species of which are large, voracious, and sometimes dangerous to humans.
  1. jump the shark, Informal. to begin a decline in quality, popularity, relevance, etc., after reaching a peak: Some TV shows have jumped the shark once a popular cast member left the show.

Origin of shark1

First recorded in 1560–70; origin uncertain
Related formsshark·like, adjective


  1. a person who preys greedily on others, as by cheating or usury.
  2. Informal. a person who has unusual ability in a particular field.
verb (used with object)
  1. Archaic. to obtain by trickery or fraud; steal.
verb (used without object)
  1. Archaic. to live by shifts and stratagems.

Origin of shark2

1590–1600; < German dialect Schork, variant of Schurke rascal
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for shark

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • This shark, I was told, had kept company with me as long as I had been in sight from the schooner.

    Ned Myers

    James Fenimore Cooper

  • The shark had apparently been harpooned at sea, and washed into the Humber.

    Adventures and Recollections

    Bill o'th' Hoylus End

  • The gentleman purchased the shark for a museum in Fleetwood.

    Adventures and Recollections

    Bill o'th' Hoylus End

  • Hey was down in the hold, having left me to take care of the shark.

    Adventures and Recollections

    Bill o'th' Hoylus End

  • This makes me think that he must have been a shark, and not a whale, as the others assumed.

    The Last Voyage

    Lady (Annie Allnutt) Brassey

British Dictionary definitions for shark


  1. any of various usually ferocious selachian fishes, typically marine with a long body, two dorsal fins, rows of sharp teeth, and between five and seven gill slits on each side of the head
Derived Formssharklike, adjective

Word Origin

C16: of uncertain origin


  1. a person who preys on or victimizes others, esp by swindling or extortion
  1. archaic to obtain (something) by cheating or deception

Word Origin

C18: probably from German Schurke rogue; perhaps also influenced by shark 1
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 shark


1560s, of uncertain origin; apparently the word and the first specimen were brought to London by Capt. John Hawkins's second expedition (landed 1565; see Hakluyt).

There is no proper name for it that I knowe, but that sertayne men of Captayne Haukinses doth call it a 'sharke' [handbill advertising an exhibition of the specimen, 1569]

The meaning "dishonest person who preys on others," though attested only from 1599 (sharker "artful swindler" in this sense is from 1594), may be the original sense, later transferred to the large, voracious marine fish. If so, it is possibly from German Schorck, a variant of Schurke "scoundrel, villain," agent noun of Middle High German schürgen (German schüren) "to poke, stir."

But on another theory, the English word is from a Mayan word, xoc, which might have meant "shark." Northern Europeans seem not to have been familiar with sharks before voyages to the tropics began. A slightly earlier name for it in English was tiburon, via Spanish (where it is attested by 1520s), from the Carib name for the fish.

The English word was applied (or re-applied) to voracious or predatory persons, on the image of the fish, from 1707 (originally of pick-pockets); loan shark is attested from 1905. Sharkskin (1851) was used for binding books, etc. As the name of a type of fabric held to resemble it, it is recorded from 1932.

There is the ordinary Brown Shark, or sea attorney, so called by sailors; a grasping, rapacious varlet, that in spite of the hard knocks received from it, often snapped viciously at our steering oar. [Herman Melville, "Mardi"]


c.1600, "to live by one's wits," of uncertain origin (see shark (n.)); according to OED, at least partly a variant of shirk. Meaning "obtain by sharking" is from 1610s. Related: Sharked; sharking.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

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