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[vuh-nil-uh or, often, -nel-uh] /vəˈnɪl ə or, often, -ˈnɛl ə/
any tropical, climbing orchid of the genus Vanilla, especially V. planifolia, bearing podlike fruit yielding an extract used in flavoring food, in perfumery, etc.
Also called vanilla bean. the fruit or bean of this orchid.
the extract of this fruit.
containing or flavored with vanilla:
vanilla custard.
Informal. plain-vanilla.
Origin of vanilla
1655-65; < New Latin < Spanish vainilla little pod, equivalent to vain(a) a sheath (< Latin vāgīna sheath) + -illa diminutive suffix (< LL) Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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British Dictionary definitions for vanilla


any tropical climbing orchid of the genus Vanilla, esp V. plonifolia, having spikes of large fragrant greenish-yellow flowers and long fleshy pods containing the seeds (beans)
the pod or bean of certain of these plants, used to flavour food, etc
a flavouring extract prepared from vanilla beans and used in cooking
flavoured with or as if with vanilla: vanilla ice cream
(slang) ordinary or conventional: a vanilla kind of guy
Word Origin
C17: from New Latin, from Spanish vainilla pod, from vaina a sheath, from Latin vāgīna sheath
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 vanilla

1660s, from Spanish vainilla "vanilla plant," literally "little pod," diminutive of vaina "sheath," from Latin vagina "sheath" (see vagina). So called from the shape of the pods. European discovery 1521 by Hernando Cortes' soldiers on reconnaissance in southeastern Mexico. Meaning "conventional, of ordinary sexual preferences" is 1970s, from notion of whiteness and the common choice of vanilla ice cream.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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vanilla in Medicine

vanilla va·nil·la (və-nĭl'ə)

  1. Any of various tropical American vines of the genus Vanilla, especially V. planifolia, cultivated for its long narrow seedpods from which a flavoring agent is obtained.

  2. The seedpod of this plant. Also called vanilla bean.

  3. A flavoring extract prepared from the cured seedpods of this plant or produced synthetically.

Flavored with vanilla.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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Slang definitions & phrases for vanilla



  1. Conventional; usual; bland; white bready (1970s+)
  2. : As a self-confessed vanilla-sexual (1970s+)
  3. plain vanilla (1970s+)


  1. A white person, esp a white woman (1970s+ Black)
  2. A person of ordinary sexual preferences; a usual heterosexual; straight: They called women who did not proclaim joy at being chained to the bedposts or chaining someone else ''vanilla'' (1970s+)

[fr the white color and the perhaps unimaginative choice of vanilla ice cream]

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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vanilla in Technology

1. (Default flavour of ice cream in the US) Ordinary flavour, standard. When used of food, very often does not mean that the food is flavoured with vanilla extract! For example, "vanilla wonton soup" means ordinary wonton soup, as opposed to hot-and-sour wonton soup. Applied to hardware and software, as in "Vanilla Version 7 Unix can't run on a vanilla PDP 11/34." Also used to orthogonalise chip nomenclature; for instance, a 74V00 means what TI calls a 7400, as distinct from a 74LS00, etc. This word differs from canonical in that the latter means "default", whereas vanilla simply means "ordinary". For example, when hackers go to a chinese restaurant, hot-and-sour wonton soup is the canonical wonton soup to get (because that is what most of them usually order) even though it isn't the vanilla wonton soup.
[Jargon File]
2. Snobol4 by Catspaw, Inc. for MS-DOS.
The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, © Denis Howe 2010
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