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  1. a word or phrase associated with some person or thing; a characteristic expression, typical greeting, or the like.
  2. a word or phrase used proverbially; common saying; proverb.
  3. an object of general reproach, derision, scorn, etc.: His crimes will make him a byword through the ages.
  4. an epithet, often of scorn.
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Origin of byword

before 1050; Middle English biworde, Old English biwyrde. See by1 (adj.), word

Synonyms for byword

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

Related Words for byword

handle, precept, aphorism, slogan, gnome, nickname, dictum, epithet, maxim, axiom, catchword, adage, proverb, shibboleth, saw, motto, catchphrase, apophthegm

Examples from the Web for byword

Contemporary Examples of byword

Historical Examples of byword

  • I've heard him say 'All's well' over and over again; 'twas a kind of byword with him.

    Kent Knowles: Quahaug

    Joseph C. Lincoln

  • We have heard of your good fortune on the seas—how your luck has passed into a byword.

    Captain Blood

    Rafael Sabatini

  • In this respect we are a byword among the peoples of the world.

    England and Germany

    Emile Joseph Dillon

  • "Go to beat the Dutch" became a byword which has persisted to this day.

  • They will hunt him out of the village, they will refuse him food, they will make him a byword, a scorn.

British Dictionary definitions for byword


  1. a person, place, or thing regarded as a perfect or proverbial example of somethingtheir name is a byword for good service
  2. an object of scorn or derision
  3. a common saying; proverb
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Word Origin for byword

Old English bīwyrde; see by, word; compare Old High German pīwurti, from Latin prōverbium proverb
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 byword


also by-word, Old English biword "proverb," formed on the model of Latin proverbium or Greek parabole. Meaning "something that has become proverbial" is from 1530s.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper