verb (used with object)
  1. Nautical. to boxhaul (often followed by off).
  2. Meteorology. to fly around the center of a storm in a boxlike pattern in order to gather meteorological data: to box a storm.
  1. box the compass, Nautical. to recite all of the points of the compass in a clockwise order.

Origin of box

1745–55; probably < Spanish bojar to sail around, earlier boxar, perhaps < Catalan vogir to (cause to) turn ≪ Latin volvere (see revolve); influenced by box1 Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

British Dictionary definitions for box the compass


  1. a receptacle or container made of wood, cardboard, etc, usually rectangular and having a removable or hinged lid
  2. Also called: boxful the contents of such a receptacle or the amount it can containhe ate a whole box of chocolates
  3. any of various containers for a specific purposea money box; letter box
  4. (often in combination) any of various small cubicles, kiosks, or sheltersa telephone box or callbox; a sentry box; a signal box on a railway
  5. a separate compartment in a public place for a small group of people, as in a theatre or certain restaurants
  6. an enclosure within a courtroomSee jury box, witness box
  7. a compartment for a horse in a stable or a vehicleSee loosebox, horsebox
  8. British a small country house occupied by sportsmen when following a field sport, esp shooting
    1. a protective housing for machinery or mechanical parts
    2. the contents of such a box
    3. (in combination)a gearbox
  9. a shaped device of light tough material worn by sportsmen to protect the genitals, esp in cricket
  10. a section of printed matter on a page, enclosed by lines, a border, or white space
  11. a central agency to which mail is addressed and from which it is collected or redistributeda post-office box; to reply to a box number in a newspaper advertisement
  12. the central part of a computer or the casing enclosing it
  13. short for penalty box
  14. baseball either of the designated areas in which the batter may stand
  15. the raised seat on which the driver sits in a horse-drawn coach
  16. NZ a wheeled container for transporting coal in a mine
  17. Australian and NZ an accidental mixing of herds or flocks
  18. a hole cut into the base of a tree to collect the sap
  19. short for Christmas box
  20. a device for dividing water into two or more ditches in an irrigation system
  21. an informal name for a coffin
  22. taboo, slang the female genitals
  23. be a box of birds NZ to be very well indeed
  24. the box British informal television
  25. think outside the box or think out of the box to think in a different, innovative, or original manner, esp with regard to business practices, products, systems, etc
  26. tick all the boxes to satisfy all of the apparent requirements for success
  27. out of the box Australian informal outstanding or excellenta day out of the box
  1. (tr) to put into a box
  2. (tr ; usually foll by in or up) to prevent from moving freely; confine
  3. (tr foll by in) printing to enclose (text) within a ruled frame
  4. (tr) to make a cut in the base of (a tree) in order to collect the sap
  5. (tr) Australian and NZ to mix (flocks or herds) accidentally
  6. (tr sometimes foll by up) NZ to confuseI am all boxed up
  7. nautical short for boxhaul
  8. box the compass nautical to name the compass points in order
Derived Formsboxlike, adjective

Word Origin for box

Old English box, from Latin buxus from Greek puxos box ³


  1. (tr) to fight (an opponent) in a boxing match
  2. (intr) to engage in boxing
  3. (tr) to hit (a person) with the fist; punch or cuff
  4. box clever to behave in a careful and cunning way
  1. a punch with the fist, esp on the ear

Word Origin for box

C14: of uncertain origin; perhaps related to Dutch boken to shunt, push into position


  1. a dense slow-growing evergreen tree or shrub of the genus Buxus, esp B. sempervirens, which has small shiny leaves and is used for hedges, borders, and garden mazes: family Buxaceae
  2. the wood of this treeSee boxwood (def. 1)
  3. any of several trees the timber or foliage of which resembles this tree, esp various species of Eucalyptus with rough bark

Word Origin for box

Old English, from Latin buxus
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 box the compass



Old English box "a wooden container," also the name of a type of shrub, from Late Latin buxis, from Greek pyxis "boxwood box," from pyxos "box tree," of uncertain origin. See OED entry for discussion. German Büchse also is a Latin loan word.

Meaning "compartment at a theater" is from c.1600. Meaning "pigeon-hole at a post office" is from 1832. Meaning "television" is from 1950. Slang meaning "vulva" is attested 17c., according to "Dictionary of American Slang;" modern use seems to date from c.World War II, perhaps originally Australian, on notion of "box of tricks." Box office is 1786; in the figurative sense of "financial element of a performance" it is first recorded 1904. Box lunch (n.) attested from 1899. The box set, "multiple-album, CD or cassette issue of the work of an artist" is attested by 1955.



"a blow," c.1300, of uncertain origin, possibly related to Middle Dutch boke, Middle High German buc, and Danish bask, all meaning "a blow," perhaps imitative.



"to beat or whip," late 14c., from box (n.2). Meaning "to fight with the fists" is from 1560s. Related: Boxed; boxing.



"to put into storage, put into a box," mid-15c., from box (n.1). Related: Boxed; boxing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with box the compass

box the compass

Make a complete turnabout or reversal, as in With a change of ownership, the editorial page boxed the compass politically, now supporting the Senator. Originally this was (and continues to be) a nautical term, meaning “repeat the 32 points of the compass in order.” In the early 1800s it began to be used figuratively.


In addition to the idioms beginning with box

  • box office
  • box score
  • box the compass

also see:

  • in a bind (box)
  • on one's soapbox
  • pandora's box
  • stuff the ballot box
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.