verb (used with object)

(of animals, especially birds) to trim or dress (feathers, fur, etc.) with the beak or tongue: The peacock preened itself on the lawn.
to dress (oneself) carefully or smartly; primp: The king preened himself in his elaborate ceremonial robes.
to pride (oneself) on an achievement, personal quality, etc.: He preened himself on having been graduated with honors.

verb (used without object)

to make oneself appear striking or smart in dress or appearance: No amount of careful preening will compensate for poor posture.
to be exultant or proud.

Origin of preen

1480–90; late Middle English prene, variant of Middle English prunen, proynen (see prune3), perhaps by association with prenen, to stab, pierce (v. use, now dial., of prene preen2), from the pricking action of a bird's beak in preening
Related formspreen·er, nounun·preened, adjective



noun Chiefly British Dialect.

a pin or brooch.

Origin of preen

before 1000; Middle English prene, Old English prēon a pin; cognate with Old Norse prjōnn pin; akin to Dutch priem, German Pfreim awl Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for preen

groom, tidy, beautify, primp, clean, prettify, prink, pretty

Examples from the Web for preen

Contemporary Examples of preen

  • Hot pink takes the Preen by Thornton Bregazzi runway in London.

  • This is not the first time Palin has attempted to sun and preen herself in the heat of a Thatcherite sun.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Palin’s Delusions of Grandeur

    Alex Massie

    June 8, 2011

  • Rather than preen about whether he could win, Christie considered whether he should win.

    The Daily Beast logo
    2012's Presidential Whiners

    Howard Kurtz

    May 29, 2011

  • An endless stream of 2012 presidential wannabes will preen for adoring fans and plentiful cameras.

    The Daily Beast logo
    The Right Invades Washington

    Samuel P. Jacobs, Shushannah Walshe

    February 8, 2011

  • A few moments to preen and promenade for the cameras following months of planning and fitting, hours of hair and makeup.

    The Daily Beast logo
    America's First Modern Celebrity

    Laura Skandera Trombley

    March 20, 2010

Historical Examples of preen

British Dictionary definitions for preen




(of birds) to maintain (feathers) in a healthy condition by arrangement, cleaning, and other contact with the bill
to dress or array (oneself) carefully; primp
(usually foll by on) to pride or congratulate (oneself)
Derived Formspreener, noun

Word Origin for preen

C14 preinen, probably from prunen to prune ³, influenced by prenen to prick, pin (see preen ²); suggestive of the pricking movement of the bird's beak




Scot a pin, esp a decorative one

Word Origin for preen

Old English prēon a pin; related to Middle High German pfrieme awl, Dutch priem bodkin
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 preen

"to trim, to dress up," late 14c., perhaps a variation of Middle English proynen, proinen "trim the feather with the beak" (see prune (v.)); or perhaps from Old French poroindre "anoint before," and Old French proignier "round off, prune." Middle English prene (from Old English preon, a general Germanic word) meant "to pin," and probably influenced the form of this word. Watkins, however, connects it with Latin unguere "to smear, anoint."

Because of the popularity of falconry, bird activities formerly were more closely observed and words for them were more precise in English than today.

Youre hawke proynith and not pikith and she prenyth not bot whan she begynnyth at hir leggys, and fetcheth moystour like oyle at hir taill. ["Book of St. Albans," 1486]
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper