• synonyms


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  1. a point or pointed part projecting backward from a main point, as of a fishhook or arrowhead.
  2. an obviously or openly unpleasant or carping remark.
  3. Botany, Zoology. a hooked or sharp bristle.
  4. Ornithology. one of the processes attached to the rachis of a feather.
  5. one of a breed of domestic pigeons, similar to the carriers or homers, having a short, broad bill.
  6. any of numerous, small, Old World cyprinid fishes of the genera Barbus and Puntius, often kept in aquariums.
  7. Usually barbs. Veterinary Pathology. a small protuberance under the tongue in horses and cattle, especially when inflamed and swollen.
  8. Also barbe. a linen covering for the throat and breast, formerly worn by women mourners and now only by some nuns.
  9. Obsolete. a beard.
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verb (used with object)
  1. to furnish with a barb or barbs.
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Origin of barb1

1300–50; Middle English barbe < Middle FrenchLatin barba beard or beardlike projection


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  1. one of a breed of horses raised originally in Barbary.
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Origin of barb2

1630–40; < French barbe, shortened form of Italian barbero Barbary steed, equivalent to Barber(ia) Barbary + -o masculine noun suffix


noun Slang.
  1. barbiturate.
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Origin of barb3

by shortening
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words


Examples from the Web for barb

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • How gracefully their Colonel, the young Count of Eberstein, bounds on his barb!

    Vivian Grey

    Earl of Beaconsfield, Benjamin Disraeli

  • The "mastiff" epithet stuck like a barb in my boyish chivalry.

  • My grandfather had a barb of thees kind—but she has gone dead, and so have my grandfather.

  • The delayed realization of her patience of misery rankled like a barb.

    Mountain Blood

    Joseph Hergesheimer

  • In trying to draw it out they broke the shaft, thus leaving the barb in the wound.

    Richard I

    Jacob Abbott

British Dictionary definitions for barb


  1. a subsidiary point facing in the opposite direction to the main point of a fish-hook, harpoon, arrow, etc, intended to make extraction difficult
  2. any of various pointed parts, as on barbed wire
  3. a cutting remark; gibe
  4. any of the numerous hairlike filaments that form the vane of a feather
  5. a beardlike growth in certain animals
  6. a hooked hair or projection on certain fruits
  7. any small cyprinid fish of the genus Barbus (or Puntius) and related genera, such as B. conchonius (rosy barb)
  8. (usually plural) any of the small fleshy protuberances beneath the tongue in horses and cattle
  9. a white linen cloth forming part of a headdress extending from the chin to the upper chest, originally worn by women in the Middle Ages, now worn by nuns of some orders
  10. obsolete a beard
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  1. (tr) to provide with a barb or barbs
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Derived Formsbarbed, adjective

Word Origin

C14: from Old French barbe beard, point, from Latin barba beard


  1. a breed of horse of North African origin, similar to the Arab but less spirited
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Word Origin

C17: from French barbe, from Italian barbero a Barbary (horse)


  1. Australian a black kelpieSee kelpie 1
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Word Origin

C19: named after one that was named Barb after a winning racehorse


n acronym for (in Britain)
  1. Broadcasters' Audience Research Board
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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 barb


late 14c., "barb of an arrow," from Old French barbe (11c.) "beard, beardlike appendage," from Latin barba "beard," perhaps cognate with Old English beard (see beard (n.)).

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late 15c., "to clip, mow;" see barb (n.). Meaning "to fit or furnish with barbs" is from 1610s. Related: Barbed; barbing.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

barb in Science


  1. A sharp point projecting backward, as on the stinger of a bee.
  2. One of the hairlike branches on the shaft of a feather.
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The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.