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See more synonyms for earmark on Thesaurus.com
  1. any identifying or distinguishing mark or characteristic: The mayor's statement had all the earmarks of dirty politics.
  2. a mark of identification made on the ear of an animal to show ownership.
  3. a provision in a piece of Congressional legislation that directs specified federal funds to specific projects, programs, organizations, or individuals: Lawmakers requested almost 40,000 earmarks worth more than $100 billion directed to their home districts and states.Compare pork barrel.
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verb (used with object)
  1. to set aside for a specific purpose, use, recipient, etc.: to earmark goods for export.
  2. to mark with an earmark.
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Origin of earmark

First recorded in 1515–25; ear1 + mark1
Related formsun·ear·marked, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for earmark

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • These minor obligations do not earmark more than an hour in the day.

  • It wont do, she averred, but Mr. Denby has every earmark of it.

    Under Cover

    Roi Cooper Megrue

  • Then follows the non sequitur, which is a Democratic earmark.

  • So I earmark the calf with the owner's marks, and don't brand him at all.

    When A Man's A Man

    Harold Bell Wright

  • I never saw a more typical criminal, Michael said, severely looking at the captive; every earmark of it.

    Under Cover

    Roi Cooper Megrue

British Dictionary definitions for earmark


verb (tr)
  1. to set aside or mark out for a specific purpose
  2. to make an identification mark on the ear of (a domestic animal)
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  1. a mark of identification on the ear of a domestic animal
  2. any distinguishing mark or characteristic
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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 earmark


late 15c., from ear (n.1) + mark (n.1). Originally a cut or mark in the ear of sheep and cattle, serving as a sign of ownership (also a punishment of certain criminals); first recorded 1570s in figurative sense "stamp of ownership."

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1590s, "to identify by an earmark," from earmark (n.). Meaning "to set aside money for a special purpose" is attested by 1868. Related: Earmarked; earmarking.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper