[woo lf]

noun, plural wolves [woo lvz] /wʊlvz/.

verb (used with object)

to devour voraciously (often followed by down): He wolfed his food.

verb (used without object)

to hunt for wolves.


    cry wolf, to give a false alarm: Is she really sick or is she just crying wolf?
    keep the wolf from the door, to avert poverty or starvation; provide sufficiently for: Their small inheritance kept the wolf from the door.
    throw to the wolves. throw(def 57).
    wolf in sheep's clothing, a person who conceals his or her evil intentions or character beneath an innocent exterior.

Origin of wolf

before 900; Middle English; Old English wulf; cognate with German Wolf, Old Norse ulfr, Gothic wulfs, Polish wilk, Lithuanian vil̃kas, Sanskrit vṛka; akin to Latin lupus, Greek lýkos
Related formswolf·like, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for cry wolf



Friedrich August (ˈfriːdrɪç ˈauɡʊst). 1759–1824, German classical scholar, who suggested that the Homeric poems, esp the Iliad, are products of an oral tradition
Hugo (ˈhuːɡo). 1860–1903, Austrian composer, esp of songs, including the Italienisches Liederbuch and the Spanisches Liederbuch
(wʊlf) Howlin'. See Howlin' Wolf


noun plural wolves (wʊlvz)

a predatory canine mammal, Canis lupus, which hunts in packs and was formerly widespread in North America and Eurasia but is now less commonSee also timber wolf Related adjective: lupine
any of several similar and related canines, such as the red wolf and the coyote (prairie wolf)
the fur of any such animal
Tasmanian wolf another name for the thylacine
a voracious, grabbing, or fiercely cruel person or thing
informal a man who habitually tries to seduce women
informal the destructive larva of any of various moths and beetles
Also called: wolf note music
  1. an unpleasant sound produced in some notes played on the violin, cello, etc, owing to resonant vibrations of the belly
  2. an out-of-tune effect produced on keyboard instruments accommodated esp to the system of mean-tone temperamentSee temperament (def. 4)
cry wolf to give a false alarm
keep the wolf from the door to ward off starvation or privation
lone wolf a person or animal who prefers to be alone
throw to the wolves to abandon or deliver to destruction
wolf in sheep's clothing a malicious person in a harmless or benevolent disguise


(tr often foll by down) to gulp (down)
(intr) to hunt wolves
Derived Formswolfish, adjectivewolflike, adjective

Word Origin for wolf

Old English wulf; related to Old High German wolf, Old Norse ulfr, Gothic wulfs, Latin lupus and vulpēs fox
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 cry wolf



Old English wulf, from Proto-Germanic *wulfaz (cf. Old Saxon wulf, Old Norse ulfr, Old Frisian, Dutch, Old High German, German wolf, Gothic wulfs), from PIE *wlqwos/*lukwos, from root *wlp-/*lup- (cf. Sanskrit vrkas, Avestan vehrka-; Albanian ulk; Old Church Slavonic vluku; Russian volcica; Lithuanian vilkas "wolf;" Old Persian Varkana- "Hyrcania," district southeast of the Caspian Sea, literally "wolf-land;" probably also Greek lykos, Latin lupus).

This manne can litle skyl ... to saue himself harmlesse from the perilous accidentes of this world, keping ye wulf from the doore (as they cal it). ["The Institution of a Gentleman," 1555]

Wolves as a symbol of lust are ancient, e.g. Roman slang lupa "whore," literally "she-wolf" (preserved in Spanish loba, Italian lupa, French louve). The equation of "wolf" and "prostitute, sexually voracious female" persisted into 12c., but by Elizabethan times wolves had become primarily symbolic of male lust. The specific use of wolf for "sexually aggressive male" first recorded 1847; wolf-whistle first attested 1952. The image of a wolf in sheep's skin is attested from c.1400. See here for a discussion of "wolf" in Indo-European history.



"eat like a wolf," 1862, from wolf (n.). Related: Wolfed; wolfing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with cry wolf

cry wolf

Raise a false alarm, as in Helen's always crying wolf about attempted break-ins, but the police can never find any evidence. This term comes from the tale about a young shepherd watching his flock who, lonely and fearful, called for help by shouting “Wolf!” After people came to his aid several times and saw no wolf, they ignored his cries when a wolf actually attacked his sheep. The tale appeared in a translation of Aesop's fables by Roger L'Estrange (1692), and the expression has been applied to any false alarm since the mid-1800s.


In addition to the idiom beginning with wolf

  • wolf in sheep's clothing

also see:

  • cry wolf
  • keep the wolf from the door
  • lone wolf
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.