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See more synonyms for keening on Thesaurus.com
  1. the act of a person who keens.
  2. a wailing lament for the dead; keen.
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Origin of keening

First recorded in 1875–80; keen2 + -ing1


  1. a wailing lament for the dead.
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verb (used without object)
  1. to wail in lamentation for the dead.
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verb (used with object)
  1. to mourn for by or with such keening or wailing: keening his mother while kneeling at her grave.
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Origin of keen2

1805–15; < Irish caoine (noun), caoin- (v., stem of caoinim) lament
Related formskeen·er, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words


Examples from the Web for keening

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • The women are keening softly and swaying themselves with a slow movement.

  • It rose and fell, rose and fell, then died away like the keening of a lost soul.

    The End of Time

    Wallace West

  • The room was filled with the keening staccato of the alien transmission.


    John Keith Laumer

  • The huge brain was alert now, with a supernal sense of keening.

    Walls of Acid

    Henry Hasse

  • Keening in from the lake, the wind made him stagger backwards.

    The Spell of the White Sturgeon

    James Arthur Kjelgaard

British Dictionary definitions for keening


  1. eager or enthusiastic
  2. (postpositive foll by on) fond (of); devoted (to)keen on a girl; keen on golf
  3. intellectually acutea keen wit
  4. (of sight, smell, hearing, etc) capable of recognizing fine distinctions
  5. having a sharp cutting edge or point
  6. extremely cold and penetratinga keen wind
  7. intense or stronga keen desire
  8. mainly British extremely low so as to be competitivekeen prices
  9. slang, mainly US and Canadian very good
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Derived Formskeenly, adverbkeenness, noun

Word Origin

Old English cēne; related to Old High German kuoni brave, Old Norse koenn wise; see can 1, know


verb (intr)
  1. to lament the dead
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  1. a dirge or lament for the dead
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Derived Formskeener, noun

Word Origin

C19: from Irish Gaelic caoine, from Old Irish coīnim I wail
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 keening



c.1200, from Old English cene "bold brave," later "clever, wise," from Proto-Germanic *kan- "be able to" (see can). Original prehistoric senses seem to have been both "brave" and "skilled;" cognate with Old Norse kænn "skillful, wise," Middle Dutch coene "bold," Dutch koen, Old High German kuon "pugnacious, strong," German kühn "bold, daring." Sense of "eager" is from mid-14c. The meaning "sharp" is peculiar to English: of blades and edges early 13c., of sounds c.1400, of eyesight c.1720. A popular word of approval in teenager and student slang from c.1900.

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"lament," 1811, from Irish caoinim "I weep, wail, lament," from Old Irish coinim "I wail." Related: Keened; keening. As a noun from 1830.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper