verb (used with object)

Verb Phrases

flesh out,
  1. to gain weight: He realized to his dismay that he had fleshed out during the months of forced inactivity.
  2. to add details to or make more complete: She fleshed out her proposal considerably before presenting it to the committee for action.


    in the flesh, present and alive before one's eyes; in person: The movie star looked quite different in the flesh.
    pound of flesh, something that strict justice demands is due, but can only be paid with great loss or suffering to the payer.
    press the flesh, Informal. to shake hands, as with voters while campaigning: The senator is busy as ever pressing the flesh on the campaign trail.

Origin of flesh

before 900; Middle English flesc, Old English flǣsc; cognate with Old Frisian flēsk, Old High German fleisk (German Fleisch), Old Norse flesk bacon
Related formsflesh·less, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for pound of flesh

pound of flesh


something that is one's legal right but is an unreasonable demand (esp in the phrase to have one's pound of flesh)

Word Origin for pound of flesh

from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice (1596), Act IV, scene i



the soft part of the body of an animal or human, esp muscular tissue, as distinct from bone and visceraRelated adjective: sarcoid
informal excess weight; fat
archaic the edible tissue of animals as opposed to that of fish or, sometimes, fowl; meat
the thick usually soft part of a fruit or vegetable, as distinct from the skin, core, stone, etc
the human body and its physical or sensual nature as opposed to the soul or spiritRelated adjective: carnal
mankind in general
animate creatures in general
one's own family; kin (esp in the phrase one's own flesh and blood)
a yellowish-pink to greyish-yellow colour
Christian Science belief on the physical plane which is considered erroneous, esp the belief that matter has sensation
(modifier) tanning of or relating to the inner or under layer of a skin or hidea flesh split
in the flesh in person; actually present
make one's flesh creep (esp of something ghostly) to frighten and horrify one
press the flesh informal to shake hands, usually with large numbers of people, esp in political campaigning


(tr) hunting to stimulate the hunting instinct of (hounds or falcons) by giving them small quantities of raw flesh
to wound the flesh of with a weapon
archaic, or poetic to accustom or incite to bloodshed or battle by initial experience
tanning to remove the flesh layer of (a hide or skin)
to fatten; fill out

Word Origin for flesh

Old English flǣsc; related to Old Norse flesk ham, Old High German fleisk meat, flesh
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 pound of flesh



1520s, "to render (a hunting animal) eager for prey by rewarding it with flesh from a kill," with figurative extensions, from flesh (n.). Meaning "to clothe or embody with flesh," with figurative extensions, is from 1660s. Related: Fleshed; fleshing.



Old English flæsc "flesh, meat," also "near kindred" (a sense now obsolete except in phrase flesh and blood), common West and North Germanic (cf. Old Frisian flesk, Middle Low German vlees, German Fleisch "flesh," Old Norse flesk "pork, bacon"), of uncertain origin, perhaps from Proto-Germanic *flaiskoz-.

Figurative use for "animal or physical nature of man" (Old English) is from the Bible, especially Paul's use of Greek sarx, which yielded sense of "sensual appetites" (c.1200). Flesh-wound is from 1670s; flesh-color, the hue of "Caucasian" skin, is first recorded 1610s, described as a tint composed of "a light pink with a little yellow" [O'Neill, "Dyeing," 1862]. An Old English poetry-word for "body" was flæsc-hama, literally "flesh-home."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

pound of flesh in Medicine




The soft tissue of the body of a vertebrate, covering the bones and consisting mainly of skeletal muscle and fat.
Related formsfleshy adj.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

pound of flesh in Culture

pound of flesh

A phrase from the play The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare. The moneylender Shylock demands the flesh of the “merchant of Venice,” Antonio, under a provision in their contract. Shylock never gets the pound of flesh, however, because the character Portia discovers a point of law that overrides the contract: Shylock is forbidden to shed any blood in getting the flesh from Antonio's body.


People who cruelly or unreasonably insist on their rights are said to be demanding their “pound of flesh.”

pound of flesh

Creditors who insist on having their “pound of flesh” are those who cruelly demand the repayment of a debt, no matter how much suffering it will cost the debtor: “The bank will have its pound of flesh; it is going to foreclose on our mortgage and force us to sell our home.” The expression is from The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare.

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.

Idioms and Phrases with pound of flesh

pound of flesh

A debt whose payment is harshly insisted on, as in The other members of the cartel all want their pound of flesh from Brazil. This expression alludes to the scene in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice (4:1) where the moneylender Shylock demands the pound of flesh promised him in payment for a loan, and Portia responds that he may have it but without an ounce of blood (since blood was not promised). [c. 1600]


In addition to the idioms beginning with flesh

  • flesh and blood
  • flesh out

also see:

  • go the way of all flesh
  • in person (the flesh)
  • make one's flesh creep
  • neither fish nor fowl (flesh)
  • pound of flesh
  • press the flesh
  • spirit is willing but the flesh is weak
  • thorn in one's flesh
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.