fray

1
[ frey ]
/ freɪ /

noun

a fight, battle, or skirmish.
a competition or contest, especially in sports.
a noisy quarrel or brawl.
Archaic. fright.

verb (used with object)

Archaic. to frighten.

verb (used without object)

Archaic. to fight or brawl.

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Origin of fray

1
First recorded in 1250–1300; Middle English frai; aphetic variant of affray

historical usage of 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.

WORDS THAT MAY BE CONFUSED WITH fray

frays , phrase

Definition for fray (2 of 2)

fray2
[ frey ]
/ freɪ /

verb (used with object)

verb (used without object)

noun

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

SYNONYMS FOR fray

1 ravel, tatter, wear out, become threadbare.
3 irritate, stress, chafe, grate on.

historical usage of 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 FROM fray

frayed, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

Example sentences from the Web for fray

British Dictionary definitions for fray (1 of 2)

fray1
/ (freɪ) /

noun

a noisy quarrel
a fight or brawl
an archaic word for fright

verb archaic

(tr) to frighten

Word Origin for fray

C14: short for affray

British Dictionary definitions for fray (2 of 2)

fray2
/ (freɪ) /

verb

to wear or cause to wear away into tatters or loose threads, esp at an edge or end
to make or become strained or irritated
to rub or chafe (another object) or (of two objects) to rub against one another

noun

a frayed place, as in cloth

Word Origin for fray

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

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.