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Origin of prank

First recorded in 1520–30; origin uncertain

Synonyms for prank

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verb (used with object)
  1. to dress or adorn in an ostentatious manner: They were all pranked out in their fanciest clothes.
verb (used without object)
  1. to make an ostentatious show or display.

Origin of prank

1540–50; akin to Dutch pronken to show off, strut, pronk show, finery, Middle Low German prank pomp
Related formsun·pranked, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for prank

Contemporary Examples of prank

Historical Examples of prank

  • Having retired to his own house, he often played off many a prank.

  • In earliest youth he had been a merry prank; he was still a prank, but not often merry.

    A Great Man

    Arnold Bennett

  • She smiled at him glowingly, thinking she had caught him at a prank.

    Life Sentence

    James McConnell

  • Whether divine or of what origin I will not have judged by that night's prank of mine.

    Simon Dale

    Anthony Hope

  • It might be a prank—or something like that—but it would n't be wrong.

    The Cross-Cut

    Courtney Ryley Cooper

British Dictionary definitions for prank


  1. a mischievous trick or joke, esp one in which something is done rather than said
Derived Formsprankish, adjective

Word Origin for prank

C16: of unknown origin


  1. (tr) to dress or decorate showily or gaudily
  2. (intr) to make an ostentatious display

Word Origin for prank

C16: from Middle Dutch pronken; related to German Prunk splendour, prangen to be in full splendour
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 prank

"a ludicrous trick" [Johnson], 1520s, of uncertain origin, perhaps related to obsolete verb prank "decorate, dress up" (mid-15c.), related to Middle Low German prank "display" (cf. also Dutch pronken, German prunken "to make a show, to strut"). The verb in the modern sense also is from 1520s. Related: Pranked; pranking.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper