[pwah-loo; French pwa-ly]

noun, plural poi·lus [pwah-looz; French pwa-ly] /ˈpwɑ luz; French pwaˈlü/.

a French common soldier.

Origin of poilu

1910–15; < French, in earlier slang: tough individual, tough, brave, literally, hairy, haired; Middle French, Old French pelu (cf. plew) < Vulgar Latin *pilūtus, equivalent to Latin pil(us) hair + Vulgar Latin *-ūtus, for Latin -ātus -ate1 (e > oi by influence of poil hair < Latin pilus)
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for poilu

Historical Examples of poilu

  • Her poilu friends had nearly wrecked his shop for him on that occasion.

    Louisiana Lou

    William West Winter

  • The captain in charge called my attention to a French poilu.

  • Entering the Judgment Hall, the Poilu is bewildered by its austerity and splendour.

  • A poilu in steely blue looked at them and saw that they were good.


    Philip Wylie

  • Belle was as used to war as the most weather-beaten French poilu.

    The Silent Readers

    William D. Lewis

British Dictionary definitions for poilu



an infantryman in the French Army, esp one in the front lines in World War I

Word Origin for poilu

C20: from French, literally: hairy (that is, virile), from poil hair, from Latin pilus a hair
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 poilu

French private soldier, 1914, from French poilu, literally "hairy," from poil "hair," not of the head, but of beards, animal coats, etc., from Latin pilus (see pile (n.3)). In 19c. French the adjective had a secondary sense of "strong, brave, courageous" (Balzac).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper