• synonyms


[ koch-uh-neel, koh-chuh-, koch-uh-neel, koh-chuh- ]
/ ˌkɒtʃ əˈnil, ˌkoʊ tʃə-, ˈkɒtʃ əˌnil, ˈkoʊ tʃə- /


a red dye prepared from the dried bodies of the females of the cochineal insect, Dactylopius coccus, which lives on cactuses of Mexico, Central America, and other warm regions.

Nearby words

cochairman, cochairperson, cochin, cochin china, cochin-china, cochineal, cochineal cactus, cochineal insect, cochise, cochlea, cochleae

Origin of cochineal

1575–85; < Middle French cochinille < Spanish cochinilla the insect; of obscure origin; perhaps to be identified with Spanish cochinilla sow bug (assuming a likeness between it and the female cochineal insect), diminutive of cochina sow, but chronology is doubtful Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for cochineal

British Dictionary definitions for cochineal


/ (ˌkɒtʃɪˈniːl, ˈkɒtʃɪˌniːl) /


Also called: cochineal insect a Mexican homopterous insect, Dactylopius coccus, that feeds on cacti
a crimson substance obtained from the crushed bodies of these insects, used for colouring food and for dyeing
  1. the colour of this dye
  2. (as adjective)cochineal shoes

Word Origin for cochineal

C16: from Old Spanish cochinilla, from Latin coccineus scarlet-coloured, from coccum cochineal kermes, from Greek kokkos kermes berry
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 cochineal



1580s, from French cochenille (16c.), probably from Spanish cochinilla, from a diminutive of Latin coccinus (adj.) "scarlet-colored," from coccum "berry (actually an insect) yielding scarlet dye" (see kermes). But some sources identify the Spanish source word as cochinilla "wood louse" (a diminutive form related to French cochon "pig").

The insect (Coccus Cacti) lives on the prickly pear cactus in Mexico and Central America and is a relative of the kermes and has similar, but more intense, dying qualities. Aztecs and other Mexican Indians used it as a dyestuff. It first is mentioned in Europe in 1523 in Spanish correspondence to Hernán Cortés in Mexico. Specimens were brought to Spain in the 1520s, and cloth merchants in Antwerp were buying cochineal in insect and powdered form in Spain by the 1540s. It soon superseded the use of kermes as a tinetorial substance. Other species of coccus are useless for dye and considered mere pests, such as the common mealy bug.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Medicine definitions for cochineal


[ kŏch′ə-nēl, kŏchə-nēl′, kō′chə-nēl′, kōchə-nēl′ ]


A red dye made of dried, pulverized female cochineal insects and used as a biological stain and as an indicator in acid-base titrations.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.