or cliff-hang·er

[ klif-hang-er ]
/ ˈklɪfˌhæŋ ər /


a melodramatic or adventure serial in which each installment ends in suspense in order to interest the reader or viewer in the next installment.
a single installment in such a serial.
a suspenseful movie, novel, etc.
the suspenseful ending itself.
a situation or contest of which the outcome is suspensefully uncertain up to the very last moment: The game was a cliffhanger, but our team finally won.

Origin of cliffhanger

An Americanism dating back to 1935–40 Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for cliff-hanger


/ (ˈklɪfˌhæŋə) /


  1. a situation of imminent disaster usually occurring at the end of each episode of a serialized film
  2. the serialized film itself
a situation that is dramatic or uncertain
Derived Formscliffhanging, adjective
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 cliff-hanger



also cliffhanger, "suspenseful situation," 1937, in reference to U.S. cinema serials, agent noun from cliff + agent noun from hang (v.). In some cases, especially Westerns, the hero or heroine literally was dangling from a cliff at the end of an episode.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper