picture

[ pik-cher ]
/ ˈpɪk tʃər /

noun

verb (used with object), pic·tured, pic·tur·ing.

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Origin of picture

1375–1425; late Middle English < Latin pictūra the act of painting, a painting, equivalent to pict(us) (past participle of pingere to paint) + -ūra -ure

OTHER WORDS FROM picture

WORDS THAT MAY BE CONFUSED WITH picture

picture pitcher
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

BEHIND THE WORD

Where does picture come from?

A picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words. But what about the word picture? We’re not going to write a thousand words on picture—although we could. Believe us when we say we could. So, here’s a briefer word picture (see what we did there?) on the origin of this versatile word.

In its most general sense, a picture is a visual representation of something, especially in the form of a painting, drawing, photograph, or the like. A picture can also refer to a mental image, among other senses. One meaning of picture, as a verb, is “to represent something in a picture or pictorially”—pictorial being a related adjective form variously used to refer to pictures.

The word picture entered English around 1375–1425, borrowed directly from the Latin word pictūra, “the act of painting, a painting.” The word is based on pict(us), the past participle of the verb pingere, meaning “to paint.” The verb could also mean “to draw, embroider, represent,” among other senses. The second part of pictūra is -ūra, a noun suffix represented as -ure in English. See our entry at ure to learn more about this suffix.

Dig deeper

The meaning of the word picture has been very stable in English. Just as it originally did in the late 1300s, a picture can still refer to a drawing or painting— whether it’s your kid’s crayon-scrawled family portrait on your fridge or Leonardo DaVinci’s Mona Lisa in the Louvre. Both are masterpieces, as far as we’re concerned. Please note, though, that when referring to formal or professional works, we often use the name of the medium (painting, photograph, film), with picture referring to more informal or amateur creations.

But picture has also been remarkably adaptable, readily lending itself to images created by new technologies: photography, cinema, TV, and all the pictures we take on our smartphones and post on social media.

The word movie—it’s easy to forget in an age of Netflix streaming and viral TikTok videos—is shortened from the phrase moving picture. And what are digital images composed of? Tiny pixels. That word is based on pix, a variant of pics, a common shortening of picture. A picture, we might say today, is worth (many) thousands of pixels.

Did you know ... ?

As we noted in the previous section, picture ultimately comes from the Latin verb pingere. Picture is not the only word English gets from this root, however.

Pingere evolved into the Old French peindre, whose past participle was peint, source of the English paint and related forms. That means a painting, etymologically speaking, is a picture.

Did you know these words are also rooted in the Latin pingere, “to paint”?

Example sentences from the Web for picture

British Dictionary definitions for picture

picture
/ (ˈpɪktʃə) /

noun

verb (tr)

Word Origin for picture

C15: from Latin pictūra painting, from pingere to paint
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

Idioms and Phrases with picture

picture

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