the highly polished, usually brightly colored shell of a marine gastropod of the genus Cypraea, as that of C. moneta (money cowrie), used as money in certain parts of Asia and Africa, or that of C. tigris, used for ornament.
the gastropod itself.

Origin of cowrie

First recorded in 1655–65, cowrie is from the Hindi word kaurī Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for cowrie

Historical Examples of cowrie

  • It was covered with red velvet and decorated with cowrie shells.

    The Horsewoman

    Alice M. Hayes

  • He wore a broad belt decorated with cowrie shells and beads.

  • I know almost every island where trade can be got, and the price to a cowrie that should be paid.

    A Modern Buccaneer

    Rolf Boldrewood

  • There was no need to worry about food—no need to spend a cowrie at the crowded stalls.


    Rudyard Kipling

  • They were so laden with savage riches as to be almost concealed beneath the strings of cowrie shells and bands of beads.

    The Leopard Woman

    Stewart Edward White

British Dictionary definitions for cowrie



noun plural -ries

any marine gastropod mollusc of the mostly tropical family Cypraeidae, having a glossy brightly marked shell with an elongated opening
the shell of any of these molluscs, esp the shell of Cypraea moneta (money cowry), used as money in parts of Africa and S Asia

Word Origin for cowrie

C17: from Hindi kaurī, from Sanskrit kaparda, of Dravidian origin; related to Tamil kōtu shell
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 cowrie

small shell, used as money in parts of Asia, 1660s, from Hindi and Urdu kauri, from Mahrati kavadi, from Sanskrit kaparda, perhaps related to Tamil kotu "shell."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper