- See under tern1.
- any of numerous aquatic birds of the subfamily Sterninae of the family Laridae, related to the gulls but usually having a more slender body and bill, smaller feet, a long, deeply forked tail, and a more graceful flight, especially those of the genus Sterna, as S. hirundo (common tern), of Eurasia and America, having white, black, and gray plumage.
Origin of tern1
1670–80; < Danish terne or Norwegian terna; cognate with Old Norse therna
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018
- any aquatic bird of the subfamily Sterninae, having a forked tail, long narrow wings, a pointed bill, and a typically black-and-white plumage: family Laridae (gulls, etc), order Charadriiformes
C18: from Old Norse therna; related to Norwegian terna, Swedish tärna
- a three-masted schooner
- rare a group of three
C14: from Old French terne, from Italian terno, from Latin ternī three each; related to Latin ter thrice, trēs three
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 common tern
gull-like shore bird (subfamily Sterninae), 1670s, via East Anglian dialect, from a Scandinavian source (cf. Danish terne, Swedish tärna, Færoese terna) related to Old Norse þerna "tern," cognate with Old English stearn "starling."
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper