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  1. passing swiftly; vanishing quickly; transient; transitory: fleeting beauty; a fleeting glance.
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Origin of fleeting

Middle English word dating back to 1325–75; see origin at fleet2, -ing2
Related formsfleet·ing·ly, adverbfleet·ing·ness, nounun·fleet·ing, adjective


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adjective, fleet·er, fleet·est.
  1. swift; rapid: to be fleet of foot; a fleet horse.
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verb (used without object)
  1. to move swiftly; fly.
  2. Nautical. to change position; shift.
  3. Archaic.
    1. to glide along like a stream.
    2. to fade; vanish.
  4. Obsolete. to float; drift; swim.
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verb (used with object)
  1. to cause (time) to pass lightly or swiftly.
  2. Nautical.
    1. to move or change the position of.
    2. to separate the blocks of (a tackle).
    3. to lay (a rope) along a deck.
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Origin of fleet2

before 900; Middle English fleten to be fleet, Old English flēotan to float; see float
Related formsfleet·ly, adverbfleet·ness, noun


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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words


Examples from the Web for fleeting

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • Each moment in history is a fleeting time, precious and unique.

  • The girl looked up for a second with another of her fleeting, stealthy glances.

    Within the Law

    Marvin Dana

  • I was palsied with doubt, and the golden moments were fleeting, were fleeting.

  • Oh, there had been moments all the sweeter and more poignant because they had been so fleeting.


    Mr. and Mrs. Haldeman-Julius

  • In such a scene none had leisure to note the fleeting moments.

    The Last of the Mohicans

    James Fenimore Cooper

British Dictionary definitions for fleeting


  1. rapid and transienta fleeting glimpse of the sea
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Derived Formsfleetingly, adverbfleetingness, noun


  1. a number of warships organized as a tactical unit
  2. all the warships of a nation
  3. a number of aircraft, ships, buses, etc, operating together or under the same ownership
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Word Origin

Old English flēot ship, flowing water, from flēotan to float


  1. rapid in movement; swift
  2. poetic fleeting; transient
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  1. (intr) to move rapidly
  2. (intr) archaic to fade away smoothly; glide
  3. (tr) nautical
    1. to change the position of (a hawser)
    2. to pass (a messenger or lead) to a hawser from a winch for hauling in
    3. to spread apart (the blocks of a tackle)
  4. (intr) obsolete to float or swim
  5. (tr) obsolete to cause (time) to pass rapidly
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Derived Formsfleetly, adverbfleetness, noun

Word Origin

probably Old English flēotan to float, glide rapidly; related to Old High German fliozzan to flow, Latin pluere to rain


  1. mainly Southeast English a small coastal inlet; creek
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Word Origin

Old English flēot flowing water; see fleet 1


noun the Fleet
  1. a stream that formerly ran into the Thames between Ludgate Hill and Fleet Street and is now a covered sewer
  2. Also called: Fleet Prison (formerly) a London prison, esp used for holding debtors
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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 fleeting


early 13c., "fickle, shifting, unstable," from Old English fleotende "floating, drifting," later "flying, moving swiftly," from present participle of fleotan (see fleet (v.)). Meaning "existing only briefly" is from 1560s.

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"swift," 1520s, but probably older than the record; apparently from or cognate with Old Norse fliotr "swift," and from the root of fleet (v.)). Related: Fleetness.

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Old English fleotan "to float, drift, flow, swim, sail," later (c.1200) "to flow," from Proto-Germanic *fleut- (cf. Old Frisian fliata, Old Saxon fliotan "to flow," Old High German fliozzan "to float, flow," German flieszen "to flow," Old Norse fliota "to float, flow"), from PIE root *pleu- "to flow, run, swim" (see pluvial).

Meaning "to glide away like a stream, vanish imperceptibly" is from c.1200; hence "to fade, to vanish" (1570s). Related: Fleeted; fleeting.

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Old English fleot "ship, raft, floating vessel," from fleotan "to float" (see fleet (v.)). Sense of "naval force" is pre-1200. The Old English word also meant "creek, inlet, flow of water," especially one into the Thames near Ludgate Hill, which lent its name to Fleet Street (home of newspaper and magazine houses, standing for "the English press" since 1882), Fleet prison, etc.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper