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Origin of awl

before 900; Middle English al, eal, aul, Old English al, eal, æl; cognate with Old Norse alr; akin to Middle English ēl, Old English ǣl, Old High German āla (German Ahle), Sanskrit ā́rā
Can be confusedale ail awlall awl (see usage note at all)


or a.w.l.

  1. absent with leave. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for awl

Contemporary Examples of awl

Historical Examples of awl

  • We cut with a knife, we pierce with an awl, we weave with a shuttle, we name with a name.

  • The shuttle will be made by the carpenter; the awl by the smith or skilled person.

  • And "hahaha" echoed the old man, still sitting with the awl in his hand.

    The Great Hunger

    Johan Bojer

  • Then he took an awl, heated it red-hot, and applied it to her eye—her sound one.

    Russian Fairy Tales

    W. R. S. Ralston

  • Baba Mustapha was seated with an awl in his hand, just going to work.

British Dictionary definitions for awl


  1. a pointed hand tool with a fluted blade used for piercing wood, leather, etcSee also bradawl

Word Origin for awl

Old English ǣl; related to Old Norse alr, Old High German āla, Dutch aal, Sanskrit ārā
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 awl

Old English æl "awl, piercer," from Proto-Germanic *ælo (cf. Old Norse alr, Dutch aal, Middle Low German al, Old High German äla, German Ahle), of uncertain origin. Earliest references are to piercing of the ears, though later it was associated with shoemakers. Through misdivision, frequently written 15c.-17c. as nawl (for an awl; see N).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper