verb (used without object) peter out,

to diminish gradually and stop; dwindle to nothing: The hot water always peters out in the middle of my shower.
to tire; exhaust (usually used as a past participle): I'm petered out after that walk.

Origin of peter

1805–15, in sense “put an end to”; 1860–65 for def 1; origin uncertain Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for petered

Contemporary Examples of petered

Historical Examples of petered

  • "He's petered out;" which addition did not make it any plainer.

  • The only reason for its building was a coal-mine boom that petered out.

    Desert Conquest

    A. M. Chisholm

  • His mine had "petered out," and his "outfit" was about "gone up."

    Across America

    James F. Rusling

  • We all went to a show at night and the Captain was just about petered to a point.

    Money Magic

    Hamlin Garland

  • But, after a while he asked me, an' I told him they'd petered out.


    James B. Hendryx

British Dictionary definitions for petered




(intr; foll by out or away) to fall (off) in volume, intensity, etc, and finally ceasethe cash petered out in three months

Word Origin for peter

C19: of unknown origin



verb (intr)

to play a high card before a low one in a suit, usually a conventional signal of a doubleton holding or of strength in that suit


the act of petering

Word Origin for peter

C20: perhaps a special use of peter 1 (to fall off in power)



noun slang

a safe, till, or cash box
a prison cell
the witness box in a courtroom
mainly US a slang word for penis

Word Origin for peter

C17 (meaning a case): from the name Peter


noun New Testament

Saint. Also called: Simon Peter. died ?67 ad, a fisherman of Bethsaida, who became leader of the apostles and is regarded by Roman Catholics as the first pope; probably martyred at Rome. Feast day: June 29 or Jan 18
either of two epistles traditionally ascribed to Peter (in full The First Epistle and The Second Epistle of Peter)
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 petered


masc. proper name, 12c., from Old English Petrus (genitive Pet(e)res, dative Pet(e)re), from Latin Petrus, from Greek Petros, literally "stone, rock," translation of Syriac kefa "stone" (Latinized as Cephas), nickname Jesus gave to apostle Simon Bar-Jona (Matt. xvi:17), historically known as St. Peter, and consequently a popular name among Christians (e.g. Italian Pietro, Spanish and Portuguese Pedro, Old French Pierres, French Pierre, etc.). Slang for "penis" is attested from 1902, probably from identity of first syllable.

The common form of this very common name in medieval England was Peres (Anglo-French Piers), hence surnames Pierce, Pearson, etc. Among the diminutive forms were Parkin and Perkin. To rob Peter to pay Paul (1510s, also in early 17c. French as descouvrir S. Pierre pour couvrir S. Pol) might be a reference to the many churches dedicated to those two saints, and have sprung from the fairly common practice of building or enriching one church with the ruins or revenues of another. But the alliterative pairing of the two names is attested from c.1400 with no obvious connection to the saints:

Sum medicyne is for peter þat is not good for poul, for þe diuersite of complexioun. [Lanfranc's "Chirurgia Magna," English translation]



"cease, stop," 1812, of uncertain origin. To peter out "become exhausted," is 1846 as miners' slang. Related: Petered; petering.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

petered in Culture


Chief among the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, he was a fisherman, originally named Simon (and often called Simon Peter). Jesus gave him the name Rock, of which “Peter” is a translation. Peter showed great faith but also exhibited great failings (see Get thee behind me, Satan). In the frightening hours before the Crucifixion, Peter three times denied being a follower of Jesus, just as Jesus had predicted he would. Nevertheless, Peter went on to become the leader of the early Christians (see also Christian) (see Pentecost), thus fulfilling another prophecy of Jesus, who had said of Peter, “Upon this rock I will build my church.... And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”


Peter is often depicted holding keys. Roman Catholics maintain a number of traditions about Peter: that he was the first of the popes, for example, and that he was martyred at Rome by being crucified upside down, because he refused to be crucified as Jesus had been.


The great church of the Vatican, Saint Peter's Basilica, was later built on what was believed to be the site of his burial.
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.