1. one of a series of small, open compartments, as in a desk, cabinet, or the like, used for filing or sorting papers, letters, etc.
  2. a hole or recess, or one of a series of recesses, for pigeons to nest in.
  3. Also called pigeon hole, white hole. Printing. white space created by setting words or lines too far apart.
verb (used with object), pi·geon·holed, pi·geon·hol·ing.
  1. to assign to a definite place or to definite places in some orderly system: to pigeonhole new ideas.
  2. to lay aside for use or reference at some later, indefinite time: We must pigeonhole this excellent plan until the time is ripe.
  3. to put aside for the present, especially with the intention of ignoring or forgetting, often indefinitely: to pigeonhole an unwanted invitation.
  4. to place in or as if in a pigeonhole or pigeonholes: to pigeonhole papers.
  5. to fit or provide with pigeonholes: The desk must be pigeonholed for all my papers.

Origin of pigeonhole

First recorded in 1570–80; pigeon1 + hole

Synonyms for pigeonhole

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for pigeon-hole

Historical Examples of pigeon-hole

  • The Caucasian God was taken out of His pigeon-hole and publicly recognised.

  • But the ways of men who could pigeon-hole a recommendation like that are difficult to understand.

  • I declare, if that mouse didn't knock a letter out of the pigeon-hole!

  • Every pigeon-hole had been ransacked and the contents were piled up in a confused heap.

    The Green Rust

    Edgar Wallace

  • Now into what pigeon-hole of my brain did that go, and why do I suddenly remember it now?

British Dictionary definitions for pigeon-hole


  1. a small compartment for papers, letters, etc, as in a bureau
  2. a hole or recess in a dovecote for pigeons to nest in
  3. informal a category or classification
verb (tr)
  1. to put aside or defer
  2. to classify or categorize, esp in a rigid manner
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 pigeon-hole

also pigeonhole, 1570s, "a small recess for pigeons to nest in," from pigeon + hole (n.). Meaning "a compartment in a writing desk," etc. is from 1680s, based on resemblance. The verb is from 1840 literally; figurative sense of "label mentally" is from 1870.

[Y]ou will have an inspector after you with note-book and ink-horn, and you will be booked and pigeon-holed for further use when wanted. ["Civilisation--The Census," "Blackwood's Magazine," Oct. 1854]

Related: Pigeonholed.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper