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  1. the sterile offspring of a female horse and a male donkey, valued as a work animal, having strong muscles, a body shaped like a horse, and donkeylike long ears, small feet, and sure-footedness.Compare hinny.
  2. any hybrid between the donkey and the horse.
  3. Informal. a very stubborn person.
  4. Botany. any sterile hybrid.
  5. Slang. a person paid to carry or transport contraband, especially drugs, for a smuggler.
  6. a small locomotive used for pulling rail cars, as in a coal yard or on an industrial site, or for towing, as of ships through canal locks.
  7. Also called spinning mule. a machine for spinning cotton or other fibers into yarn and winding the yarn on spindles.
  8. Nautical. a large triangular staysail set between two masts and having its clew set well aft.
  9. Numismatics. a hybrid coin having the obverse of one issue and the reverse of the succeeding issue, or vice versa.
  10. Biology. a hybrid, especially one between the canary and some other finch.
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Origin of mule1

before 1000; Middle English < Old French < Latin mūla mule (feminine); replacing Old English mūl < Latin mūlus (masculine)


  1. a lounging slipper that covers the toes and instep or only the instep.
  2. a woman's shoe resembling this.
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Origin of mule2

1350–1400; Middle English: sore spot on the heel, chilblain, perhaps < Middle Dutch mūle
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for mule


  1. the sterile offspring of a male donkey and a female horse, used as a beast of burdenCompare hinny 1
  2. any hybrid animala mule canary
  3. Also called: spinning mule a machine invented by Samuel Crompton that spins cotton into yarn and winds the yarn on spindles
  4. informal an obstinate or stubborn person
  5. slang a person who is paid to transport illegal drugs for a dealer
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Word Origin

C13: from Old French mul, from Latin mūlus ass, mule


  1. a backless shoe or slipper
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Word Origin

C16: from Old French from Latin mulleus a magistrate's shoe
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 mule


"offspring of donkey and horse," from Old English mul, Old French mul "mule, hinny" (12c., fem. mule), both from Latin mulus (fem. mula) "a mule," probably from a pre-Latin Mediterranean language.

The mule combines the strength of the horse with the endurance and surefootedness of the ass, and is extensively bred for certain employments for which it is more suited than either; it is ordinarily incapable of procreation. With no good grounds, the mule is a proverbial type of obstinacy. [OED]

Properly, the offspring of a he-ass and a mare; that of a she-ass and a stallion is technically a hinny. Used allusively of hybrids and things of mixed nature. As a type of spinning machine, attested from 1797 (so called because a hybrid of distinct warp and woof machines). Meaning "obstinate, stupid, or stubborn person" is from 1470s; that of "narcotics smuggler or courier" first attested 1935.

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"loose slipper," 1560s, from Middle French mule, from Latin mulleus calceus "red high-soled shoe," worn by Roman patricians, from mullus "red" (see mullet (n.1)). Related: Mules.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with mule


see stubborn as a mule.

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