[ proh-tuh-kawl, -kol, -kohl ]
/ ˈproʊ təˌkɔl, -ˌkɒl, -ˌkoʊl /
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verb (used without object)
to draft or issue a protocol.
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Origin of protocol

First recorded in 1535–45; earlier protocoll, from Medieval Latin prōtocollum, from Late Greek prōtókollon originally, “a leaf or tag attached to a rolled papyrus manuscript and containing notes as to contents.” See proto-, colloid

historical usage of protocol

Protocol ultimately comes from Late Greek prōtókollon, a compound noun meaning “the first kóllēma (sheet) on a papyrus roll,” formed from prōto-, a combining form of prôtos “first” (and completely naturalized in English) and the noun kóllēma “something bound or glued together” (the plural kollēmata means “sheets of papyrus glued together to form a roll,” usually 20 sheets, averaging 20–26 feet in length). Prōtókollon is first recorded in the Novels, one of the four divisions of the Corpus Juris Civilis, compiled by order of the emperor Justinian (a.d. 483–565), the last native Latin-speaking emperor. A prōtókollon protected the outside of a rolled-up scroll (and therefore was sometimes reinforced with parchment). The protocol was the equivalent of the modern copyright page and table of contents, bearing official authentication, date of manufacture, author, and contents.
In Medieval Latin prōtocollum acquired the meaning “draft (of a document), minutes (of a meeting), public register, a document bearing an official seal.” By the middle of the 19th century, French developed the sense “official norms of behavior or etiquette to be maintained between states and their ministers; the accepted and customary codes of behavior in polite society.” In late 19th-century Russia, protocol ( protokól ) meant “an official police record of a case or incident,” its meaning in the infamous “Protocols [ protokóly ] of the Elders of Zion,” first published in Russia in 1903.


pro·to·col·ar [proh-tuh-kol-er], /ˌproʊ təˈkɒl ər/, pro·to·col·a·ry, pro·to·col·ic, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does protocol mean?

Protocol generally means an official set of procedures for what actions to take in a certain situation.

Protocol has many specific uses, but most of them deal with such a plan or the documents that spell out such a plan or agreement. Protocol is used in specific ways in the contexts of diplomacy, medicine, and computing, but it’s also often used in a general way in situations that require people to follow official procedures.

Example: His failure to follow the safety procedures was a serious breach of protocol.

Where does protocol come from?

The first records of protocol come from the 1500s. It’s derived from the Greek prōtókollon, which referred to a tag attached to a rolled papyrus manuscript that contained notes about its contents.

In the context of diplomacy (the conducting of relations and negotiations between nations), protocol refers to the formal customs, regulations, and etiquette that have been established to carry out such interactions. More specifically, it can refer to an international agreement, the first draft of a treaty, or an addition to it.

In medicine, a protocol is a formal plan for treating a patient, especially in a specific circumstance. In computing, protocol refers to a set of rules for formatting messages.

In general, the word protocol is used to refer to an official plan or a set of guidelines to be followed in certain situations. Protocols are often used to ensure safety. For example, a company might have a safety protocol for handling hazardous materials.

In the Star Wars series, the character C-3PO is a protocol droid, meaning he’s responsible for assisting with things like etiquette and translation (he’s fond of pointing out that he’s fluent in millions of forms of communication).

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What are some other forms related to protocol?

  • protocolar (adjective)
  • protocolary (adjective)
  • protocolic (adjective)

What are some synonyms for protocol?

What are some words that share a root or word element with protocol

What are some words that often get used in discussing protocol?


How is protocol used in real life?

Protocol is most commonly used to refer to official rules and regulations that are formulated so they can be followed in a future situation.



Try using protocol!

Which of the following words is LEAST likely to describe a protocol?

A. official
B. formal
C. willy-nilly
D. planned

How to use protocol in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for protocol

/ (ˈprəʊtəˌkɒl) /

the formal etiquette and code of behaviour, precedence, and procedure for state and diplomatic ceremonies
a memorandum or record of an agreement, esp one reached in international negotiations, a meeting, etc
(chiefly US)
  1. a record of data or observations on a particular experiment or proceeding
  2. an annexe appended to a treaty to deal with subsidiary matters or to render the treaty more lucid
  3. a formal international agreement or understanding on some matter
an amendment to a treaty or convention
philosophy a statement that is immediately verifiable by experienceIn full: protocol statement See logical positivism
computing the set form in which data must be presented for handling by a particular computer configuration, esp in the transmission of information between different computer systems

Word Origin for protocol

C16: from Medieval Latin prōtocollum, from Late Greek prōtokollon sheet glued to the front of a manuscript, from proto- + kolla glue
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

Scientific definitions for protocol

[ prōtə-kôl′, -kōl′ ]

The plan for a course of medical treatment or for a scientific experiment.
A set of standardized procedures for transmitting or storing data, especially those used in regulating data transmission between computers or peripherals.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.