[ pou-wou ]

  1. a large gathering organized by Native Americans for socializing, dancing, singing, and celebrating their culture.

  2. a council or conference of or with Native Americans.

  1. (historically, among North American Indians) a ceremony accompanied by spiritual, religious, and ritual practices, along with dancing, performed for the cure of disease, success in a hunt, etc.

  2. (among Native Americans) a priest or shaman.

  3. Informal: Often Offensive. any conference or meeting.

verb (used without object)
  1. to hold a powwow, such as a cultural gathering, council, or spiritual ceremony for Native Americans.

  2. Informal: Often Offensive. to confer.

Origin of powwow

An Americanism dating back to 1615–25; from Narragansett (English spelling) powwaw “shaman, healer” (and the identical word in Massachusett ), from unattested Proto-Algonquian pawe·wa “he dreams” (used as a derived agent noun meaning “he who dreams,” i.e., one who derives his power from visions)

usage note For powwow

There are a number of words associated with Native American peoples, like brave, chief, powwow, or warpath, that have been appropriated, especially for use in sports and business. While the words are not offensive in straightforward denotative use (e.g., the chief of a tribe in Oklahoma), they become problematic when dissociated from their Indigenous referents and used to evoke a culture that the people using these words don’t know anything authentic about. Use of these terms is beyond problematic, and truly offensive, when used to evoke a caricature or stereotype, or when used as a mascot or costume, as is the case sometimes in sports.
When speaking or writing about members of Tribal Nations or First Nations, it’s best to understand the history and governance of the group in question, and to reflect the language used by the members of this specific tribe or nation. Fidelity to the group’s own naming is important. In other contexts, these Native-evoking words can and should be replaced with more neutral language, where your boss is not “the chief” and there is no need for a “powwow” because teams of co-workers can just chat, meet up, or have a brainstorming session.

Words Nearby powwow

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use powwow in a sentence

  • So we organized and pressured Jeffrey Zucker, CEO of NBC Universal, for a powwow.

    The Year in Sexism | Amy Siskind | December 17, 2009 | THE DAILY BEAST
  • That canoe coming forward there, with the white flag up, Filhiol insisted, means they want to powwow.

    Cursed | George Allan England
  • Without stopping to call a powwow they summoned all hands to arms.

    Strange Stories of the Great River | Abbie Johnston Grosvenor
  • Far as I remember, English enticed all neighbouring Scots to powwow of some sort.

    The Heather-Moon | C. N. Williamson and A. M. Williamson
  • "I'll attend to him, while you powwow with Ireton," said Anthony, ready for the unexpected situation.

    It Happened in Egypt | C. N. Williamson
  • I've listened to all this powwow, and I gather that you got drunk to the last man, and he gathered you in.

    The Wreck of the Titan | Morgan Robertson

British Dictionary definitions for powwow


/ (ˈpaʊˌwaʊ) /

  1. a talk, conference, or meeting

  2. a magical ceremony of certain North American Indians, usually accompanied by feasting and dancing

  1. (among certain North American Indians) a medicine man

  2. a meeting of or negotiation with North American Indians

  1. (intr) to hold a powwow

Origin of powwow

C17: from Algonquian; related to Natick pauwau one who practises magic, Narraganset powwaw

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