adjective, mean·er, mean·est.

Origin of mean

before 900; Middle English mene, aphetic variant (see y-) of imene, Old English gemǣne; cognate with Dutch gemeen, German gemein common, Gothic gamains in common; cf. common

Synonym study

2. Mean, low, base, sordid, and vile all refer to ignoble characteristics worthy of dislike, contempt, or disgust. Mean suggests pettiness and small-mindedness: to take a mean advantage. Low suggests coarseness and vulgarity: low company. Base suggests selfish cowardice or moral depravity: base motives. Sordid suggests a wretched uncleanness, or sometimes an avariciousness without dignity or moral scruples: a sordid slum; sordid gain. Vile suggests disgusting foulness or repulsiveness: vile insinuation; a vile creature. 3. See stingy1.




Usually means. (used with a singular or plural verb) an agency, instrument, or method used to attain an end: The telephone is a means of communication. There are several means of solving the problem.
  1. available resources, especially money: They lived beyond their means.
  2. considerable financial resources; riches: a man of means.
something that is midway between two extremes; something intermediate: to seek a mean between cynicism and blind faith.
  1. a quantity having a value intermediate between the values of other quantities; an average, especially the arithmetic mean.
  2. either the second or third term in a proportion of four terms.
Statistics. expected value. See mathematical expectation(def 2).
Logic. the middle term in a syllogism.


occupying a middle position or an intermediate place, as in kind, quality, degree, or time: a mean speed; a mean course; the mean annual rainfall.

Origin of mean

1300–50; Middle English mene < Middle French meen, variant of meien < Latin mediānus; see median
Can be confusedmean median Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for meaner

Contemporary Examples of meaner

Historical Examples of meaner

  • The one next to it is a sword of the same period, only used by a meaner person.


    William J. Locke

  • I surrounded myself with the smaller natures and the meaner minds.

    De Profundis

    Oscar Wilde

  • A meaner temple was never consecrated to the worship of the Deity.

    Main Street

    Nathaniel Hawthorne

  • "Maybe I've been mean—but you're been meaner," she summed up, in self-justification.

    Good Indian

    B. M. Bower

  • I thought my dad was meaner than a spiled herrin' to keep on sayin' no when I said yes.

    Thankful's Inheritance

    Joseph C. Lincoln

British Dictionary definitions for meaner



verb means, meaning or meant (mainly tr)

(may take a clause as object or an infinitive) to intend to convey or express
(may take a clause as object or an infinitive) intendshe didn't mean to hurt it
(may take a clause as object) to say or do in all seriousnessthe boss means what he says about strikes
(often passive often foll by for) to destine or design (for a certain person or purpose)she was meant for greater things
(may take a clause as object) to denote or connote; signify; representexamples help show exactly what a word means
(may take a clause as object) to produce; causethe weather will mean long traffic delays
(may take a clause as object) to foretell; portendthose dark clouds mean rain
to have the importance ofmoney means nothing to him
(intr) to have the intention of behaving or acting (esp in the phrases mean well or mean ill)
mean business to be in earnest

Word Origin for mean

Old English mænan; compare Old Saxon mēnian to intend, Dutch meenen


In standard English, mean should not be followed by for when expressing intention: I didn't mean this to happen (not I didn't mean for this to happen)




mainly British miserly, ungenerous, or petty
humble, obscure, or lowlyhe rose from mean origins to high office
despicable, ignoble, or callousa mean action
poor or shabbymean clothing; a mean abode
informal, mainly US and Canadian bad-tempered; vicious
informal ashamedhe felt mean about not letting the children go to the zoo
informal, mainly US unwell; in low spirits
slang excellent; skilfulhe plays a mean trombone
no mean
  1. of high qualityno mean performer
  2. difficultno mean feat
Derived Formsmeanly, adverbmeanness, noun

Word Origin for mean

C12: from Old English gemǣne common; related to Old High German gimeini, Latin communis common, at first with no pejorative sense




the middle point, state, or course between limits or extremes
  1. the second and third terms of a proportion, as b and c in a/b = c/d
  2. another name for average (def. 2) See also geometric mean
statistics a statistic obtained by multiplying each possible value of a variable by its probability and then taking the sum or integral over the range of the variable


intermediate or medium in size, quantity, etc
occurring halfway between extremes or limits; average
See also means

Word Origin for mean

C14: via Anglo-Norman from Old French moien, from Late Latin mediānus median
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 meaner



"intend, have in mind," Old English mænan "to mean, intend, signify; tell, say; complain, lament," from West Germanic *mainijan (cf. Old Frisian mena "to signify," Old Saxon menian "to intend, signify, make known," Dutch menen, German meinen "think, suppose, be of the opinion"), from PIE *meino- "opinion, intent" (cf. Old Church Slavonic meniti "to think, have an opinion," Old Irish mian "wish, desire," Welsh mwyn "enjoyment"), perhaps from root *men- "think" (see mind (n.)). Conversational question you know what I mean? attested by 1834.



"low-quality," c.1200, "shared by all," from imene, from Old English gemæne "common, public, general, universal, shared by all," from Proto-Germanic *ga-mainiz "possessed jointly" (cf. Old Frisian mene, Old Saxon gimeni, Middle Low German gemeine, Middle Dutch gemene, Dutch gemeen, German gemein, Gothic gamains "common"), from PIE *ko-moin-i- "held in common," a compound adjective formed from collective prefix *ko- "together" (Proto-Germanic *ga-) + *moi-n-, suffixed form of PIE root *mei- "to change, exchange" (see mutable). Cf. second element in common (adj.), a word with a sense evolution parallel to that of this word.

Of things, "inferior, second-rate," from late 14c. (a secondary sense in Old English was "false, wicked"). Notion of "so-so, mediocre" led to confusion with mean (n.). Meaning "inferior in rank or status" (of persons) emerged early 14c.; that of "ordinary" from late 14c.; that of "stingy, nasty" first recorded 1660s; weaker sense of "disobliging, pettily offensive" is from 1839, originally American English slang. Inverted sense of "remarkably good" (i.e. plays a mean saxophone) first recorded c.1900, perhaps from phrase no mean _______ "not inferior" (1590s, also, "not average," reflecting further confusion with mean (n.)).



"that which is halfway between extremes," early 14c., from Old French meien "middle, means, intermediary," noun use of adjective from Latin medianus "of or that is in the middle" (see mean (adj.2)). Oldest sense is musical; mathematical sense is from c.1500. Some senes reflect confusion with mean (adj.1). This is the mean in by no means (late 15c.).



"calculate an arithemtical mean," 1882, from mean (n.).



"occupying a middle or intermediate place," mid-14c., from Anglo-French meines (plural), Old French meien, variant of moiien "mid-, medium, common, middle-class" (12c., Modern French moyen), from Late Latin medianus "of the middle," from Latin medius "in the middle" (see medial (adj.)). Meaning "intermediate in time" is from mid-15c. Mathematical sense is from late 14c.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Medicine definitions for meaner




Something having a position, quality, or condition midway between extremes; a medium.
A number that typifies a set of numbers, such as a geometric mean or an arithmetic mean.
The average value of a set of numbers.


Occupying a middle or intermediate position between two extremes.
Intermediate in size, extent, quality, time, or degree; medium.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Science definitions for meaner



A number or quantity having a value that is intermediate between other numbers or quantities, especially an arithmetic mean or average. See more at arithmetic mean.
Either the second or third term of a proportion of four terms. In the proportion 23 = 46, the means are 3 and 4. Compare extreme.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Culture definitions for meaner


An average in statistics. (See under “Physical Sciences and Mathematics.”)


In statistics, an average of a group of numbers or data points. With a group of numbers, the mean is obtained by adding them and dividing by the number of numbers in the group. Thus the mean of five, seven, and twelve is eight (twenty-four divided by three). (Compare median and mode.)

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Idioms and Phrases with meaner


In addition to the idioms beginning with mean

  • mean business
  • mean to

, also see under

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