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  1. any of the characters of certain ancient alphabets, as of a script used for writing the Germanic languages, especially of Scandinavia and Britain, from c200 to c1200, or a script used for inscriptions in a Turkic language of the 6th to 8th centuries from the area near the Orkhon River in Mongolia.
  2. something written or inscribed in such characters.
  3. an aphorism, poem, or saying with mystical meaning or for use in casting a spell.
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Origin of rune1

1675–85; < Old Norse rūn a secret, writing, runic character; cognate with Old English rūn (Middle English rune, obsolete English roun). See round2
Related formsrune·like, adjective


noun Literary.
  1. a poem, song, or verse.
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Origin of rune2

1865–70; < Finnish runo poem, canto < Scandinavian. See rune1
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words


Examples from the Web for rune

Historical Examples

  • On the top of the armring there was a small fingerring with a rune graved upon it.

    The Children of Odin

    Padraic Colum

  • In the Kalevala it is a bee that brings the honey which restores Lemminkinen; Rune 15, 530.

  • The eighth rune was the Rune of the Soul that dieth not, and the Spirit that is.

  • The fourth rune was the Rune of the Green Trees and of all things that grow.

  • The seventh rune was the Rune of Death, from the quenching of a gnat to the fading of the stars.

British Dictionary definitions for rune


  1. any of the characters of an ancient Germanic alphabet, derived from the Roman alphabet, in use, esp in Scandinavia, from the 3rd century ad to the end of the Middle Ages. Each character was believed to have a magical significance
  2. any obscure piece of writing using mysterious symbols
  3. a kind of Finnish poem or a stanza in such a poem
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Derived Formsrunic, adjective

Word Origin

Old English rūn, from Old Norse rūn secret; related to Old Saxon, Old High German, Gothic runa
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 rune


Old English run, rune "secret, mystery, dark mysterious statement, (secret) council," also "a runic letter" (runstæf), from Proto-Germanic *runo (cf. Old Norse run "a secret, magic sign, runic character," Old High German runa "a secret conversation, whisper," Gothic runa), from PIE *ru-no-, source of technical terms of magic in Germanic and Celtic (cf. Gaelic run "a secret, mystery, craft, deceit, purpose, intention, desire," Welsh rhin "a secret, charm, virtue." Cf. also Runnymede.

The word entered Middle English as roun and by normal evolution would have become Modern English *rown, but it died out mid-15c. when the use of runes did. The modern usage is from late 17c., from German philologists who had reintroduced the word in their writings from a Scandinavian source (cf. Danish rune, from Old Norse run). The runic alphabet is believed to have developed by 2c. C.E. from contact with Greek writing, with the letters modified to be more easily cut into wood or stone.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper