[ kairn ]
/ kɛərn /
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a heap of stones set up as a landmark, monument, tombstone, etc.
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Also carn [kahrn] /kɑrn/ .

Origin of cairn

First recorded in 1525–35; earlier carn, from Scots Gaelic: “pile of stones”; perhaps akin to horn


cairned, adjectivecairny, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does cairn mean?

A cairn is a pile of stones set up as a marker, monument, or memorial of some kind.

Cairns are sometimes used to mark points along hiking trails. This usually takes the form of a small pile of rocks or several stones stacked on top of each other.

The word cairn is also used in the context of archaeology, in which it usually refers to a large pile of stones that marks some kind of significant site, often a burial site. Such cairns were sometimes used in areas with rocky soil not suitable for traditional burial.

Example: The cairn at the summit of the trail has continued to grow as hikers have added rocks to it.

Where does cairn come from?

The first records of the word cairn come from around the 1530s. It comes from the Scots Gaelic word carn, meaning “pile of stones.”

Much less commonly, cairn can be used as a verb meaning to mark with cairns. A trail that is marked with cairns may be described with the adjective cairned, but this is also uncommon.

The word cairn is also found in the name of the cairn terrier, a breed of dog originally from Scotland, where it was bred to hunt animals by driving them out of their holes or burrows. Its name is thought to come from the fact that such dogs were often found in places with a lot of cairns—like the rocky terrain of the Scottish Highlands.

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What are some other forms related to cairn?

  • carn (less common alternate spelling)
  • cairned (adjective)
  • cairny (adjective)

What are some words that share a root or word element with cairn



What are some words that often get used in discussing cairn?


How is cairn used in real life?

Cairn is typically used in the context of hiking or archaeology.



Try using cairn!

True or False? 

A cairn is a pile of sticks or twigs.

How to use cairn in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for cairn

/ (kɛən) /

a mound of stones erected as a memorial or marker
Also called: cairn terrier a small rough-haired breed of terrier originally from Scotland

Word Origin for cairn

C15: from Gaelic carn
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