[awr-fuh n]



verb (used with object)

to deprive of parents or a parent through death: He was orphaned at the age of four.
Informal. to deprive of commercial sponsorship, an employer, etc.: The recession has orphaned many experienced workers.

Origin of orphan

1425–75; late Middle English (noun) < Late Latin orphanus destitute, without parents < Greek orphanós bereaved; akin to Latin orbus bereaved
Related formsor·phan·hood, nounhalf-or·phan, nounun·or·phaned, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for orphan

foundling, ragamuffin, stray, waif

Examples from the Web for orphan

Contemporary Examples of orphan

Historical Examples of orphan

  • She had ceased to think about the lad while she was giving this explanation of an orphan to her son.

    Rico and Wiseli

    Johanna Spyri

  • At his birth he was an orphan, his father having died a few weeks previously.


    Scian Dubh

  • It is the child of one dear, most dear to me; an orphan; I know not with whom else to place it.

  • She was an orphan and unhappy, and on this day of triumph she felt the need of a family.

    My Double Life

    Sarah Bernhardt

  • Do you know of any orphan with three or four hundred pound?'

British Dictionary definitions for orphan



  1. a child, one or (more commonly) both of whose parents are dead
  2. (as modifier)an orphan child
printing the first line of a paragraph separated from the rest of the paragraph by occurring at the foot of a page


(tr) to deprive of one or both parents

Word Origin for orphan

C15: from Late Latin orphanus, from Greek orphanos; compare Latin orbus bereaved
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 orphan

c.1300, from Late Latin orphanus "parentless child" (source of Old French orfeno, Italian orfano), from Greek orphanos "orphaned, without parents, fatherless," literally "deprived," from orphos "bereft," from PIE *orbho- "bereft of father," also "deprived of free status," from root *orbh- "to change allegiance, to pass from one status to another" (cf. Hittite harb- "change allegiance," Latin orbus "bereft," Sanskrit arbhah "weak, child," Armenian orb "orphan," Old Irish orbe "heir," Old Church Slavonic rabu "slave," rabota "servitude" (cf. robot), Gothic arbja, German erbe, Old English ierfa "heir," Old High German arabeit, German Arbeit "work," Old Frisian arbed, Old English earfoð "hardship, suffering, trouble"). As an adjective from late 15c.


1814, from orphan (n.). Related: Orphaned; orphaning.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper