fray

1
[ frey ]
See synonyms for: frayfrayedfraying on Thesaurus.com

noun
  1. a fight, battle, or skirmish.

  2. a competition or contest, especially in sports.

  1. a noisy quarrel or brawl.

  2. Archaic. fright.

verb (used with object)
  1. Archaic. to frighten.

verb (used without object)
  1. Archaic. to fight or brawl.

Origin of fray

1
First recorded in 1350–1400; Middle English frai; shortening of affray

word story For fray

“I joined the fray, and proceeded to fray my clothes.” What we have here are two completely different words that happen to be spelled (and pronounced) the same way. This is the story of the first fray, a word for a fight, a competition, or a noisy brawl.
This fray was borrowed into English from an Anglo-French word with the various meanings “to disturb,” “to attack,” and also “to frighten.” The past participle of this same word ( affrayed, meaning “alarmed”) became, in English, afraid.
While nowadays frays are things that people willingly “enter” or “join” or even “throw themselves into,” early in its history the fear aspect dominated. And so, in the 1300s, one could speak of frayes and dredes (fears and dreads) and in the 1500s, one might find a fray-boggard (fear-goblin) in the garden, a frightening specter better known to us as a scarecrow.

Other words for fray

Words that may be confused with fray

Words Nearby fray

Other definitions for fray (2 of 2)

fray2
[ frey ]

verb (used with object)
  1. to wear (cloth, rope, etc.) to loose, raveled threads or fibers at the edge or end; cause to ravel out: Our old washing machine frayed all of our towels.

  2. to wear by rubbing (sometimes followed by through).

  1. to cause strain on (something); upset; discompose: All that arguing is fraying my nerves.

  2. to rub.

verb (used without object)
  1. to wear into loose, raveled threads or fibers, as cloth; ravel out: My sweater frayed at the elbows.

  2. to become strained or stressed: Jealousy could be a sign that your relationship is fraying.

  1. to rub against something: tall grass fraying against my knees.

noun
  1. a raveled or worn part, as in cloth: frays at the toes of well-worn sneakers.

Origin of fray

2
First recorded in 1375–1425; late Middle English fraien, from Old French frayer, freiier “to rub,” from Latin fricāre; see friction

word story For fray

This is the story of the second fray, a word that means to cause deterioriation or wear on something, usually material, by rubbing it. Metaphorically, this can apply to less tangible things, such as our nerves or our tempers.
This fray is closely related to the word friction, as both have as a common ancestor the Latin fricāre, meaning “to rub.” It makes sense—given enough friction, things will begin to fray. But language isn’t always so neat. One early sense of fray that existed in the 1400s, but which has since fallen out of use, meant “to bruise” (as in, with our strokes we shall fray him ). In a translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses dating from the 1500s, this very same sense in a different context is used to mean “deflower” (deprive of virginity). Can we connect the dots from rub to bruise to deflower? Therein lies the rub.

Other words for fray

Other words from fray

  • frayed, adjective

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2024

How to use fray in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for fray (1 of 2)

fray1

/ (freɪ) /


noun
  1. a noisy quarrel

  2. a fight or brawl

  1. an archaic word for fright

verbarchaic
  1. (tr) to frighten

Origin of fray

1
C14: short for affray

British Dictionary definitions for fray (2 of 2)

fray2

/ (freɪ) /


verb
  1. to wear or cause to wear away into tatters or loose threads, esp at an edge or end

  2. to make or become strained or irritated

  1. to rub or chafe (another object) or (of two objects) to rub against one another

noun
  1. a frayed place, as in cloth

Origin of fray

2
C14: from French frayer to rub, from Latin fricāre; see friction, friable

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

Other Idioms and Phrases with fray

fray

see enter the lists (fray).

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.