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forty

[fawr-tee]
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noun, plural for·ties.
  1. a cardinal number, ten times four.
  2. a symbol for this number, as 40 or XL or XXXX.
  3. a set of this many persons or things.
  4. forties, the numbers, years, degrees, or the like, from 40 through 49, as in referring to numbered streets, indicating the years of a lifetime or of a century, or degrees of temperature: His office is in the West Forties. Her parents are in their forties. The temperature will be in the forties.
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adjective
  1. amounting to 40 in number.
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Origin of forty

before 950; Middle English fourti, Old English fēowertig (cognate with Old Frisian fiuwertich, Old High German fiorzug, German vierzig). See four, -ty1
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for forties

forty

noun plural -ties
  1. the cardinal number that is the product of ten and fourSee also number (def. 1)
  2. a numeral, 40, XL, etc, representing this number
  3. something representing, represented by, or consisting of 40 units
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determiner
    1. amounting to fortyforty thieves
    2. (as pronoun)there were forty in the herd
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Word Origin

Old English fēowertig
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 forties

n.

1843 as the years of someone's life between 40 and 49; 1840 as a decade of years in a given century. See forty. Also a designation applied in various places and times to certain oligarchies, ruling classes, or governing bodies.

It is well known that society in the island [Guernsey] is, or perhaps we ought to say, for many years was, divided into two sets, called respectively the Sixties and the Forties, the former composed of the old families and those allied to them, the latter of families of newly-acquired wealth and position. ["The Dublin Review," October 1877]

Roaring Forties are rough parts of the ocean between 40 and 50 degrees latitude.

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forty

n.

Old English feowertig, from feower "four" (see four) + tig "group of ten" (see -ty (1)). Cf. Old Saxon fiwartig, Old Frisian fiuwertich, Dutch veertig, Old High German fiorzug, German vierzig, Old Norse fjorir tigir, Gothic fidwor tigjus.

[T]he number 40 must have been used very frequently by Mesha's scribe as a round number. It is probably often used in that way in the Bible where it is remarkably frequent, esp. in reference to periods of days or years. ... How it came to be so used is not quite certain, but it may have originated, partly at any rate, in the idea that 40 years constituted a generation or the period at the end of which a man attains maturity, an idea common, it would seem, to the Greeks, the Israelites, and the Arabs. ["The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia," James Orr, ed., Chicago, 1915]

Forty winks "short sleep" is attested from 1821, In early use associated with, and perhaps coined by, eccentric English lifestyle reformer William Kitchiner M.D. (1775-1827).

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper