Origin of signal

1350–1400; Middle English (noun) < Medieval Latin signāle, Late Latin, noun use of neuter of signālis of a sign. See sign, -al2, -al1
Related formssig·nal·er; especially British sig·nal·ler, nounpre·sig·nal, noun, verb (used with object), pre·sig·naled, pre·sig·nal·ing or (especially British) pre·sig·nalled, pre·sig·nal·ing.re·sig·nal, verb re·sig·naled, re·sig·nal·ing or (especially British) re·sig·nalled, re·sig·nal·ling.un·sig·naled, adjectiveun·sig·nalled, adjective
Can be confusedsignal single

Synonyms for signal

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for signal

Contemporary Examples of signal

Historical Examples of signal

  • As she spoke, Geta lifted the curtain, and Philothea instantly obeyed the signal.


    Lydia Maria Child

  • Each instinctively touched the other's arm, as a signal for silence.


    Lydia Maria Child

  • For months I had received daily and hourly the most signal benefits from his hands.

  • The appearance of Mr. Gladstone was the signal for great applause.

    The Grand Old Man

    Richard B. Cook

  • Cissy sent her a look, a signal, and rose; she stood by the doorway.

British Dictionary definitions for signal



any sign, gesture, token, etc, that serves to communicate information
anything that acts as an incitement to actionthe rise in prices was a signal for rebellion
  1. a variable parameter, such as a current or electromagnetic wave, by which information is conveyed through an electronic circuit, communications system, etc
  2. the information so conveyed
  3. (as modifier)signal strength; a signal generator


distinguished or conspicuous
used to give or act as a signal

verb -nals, -nalling or -nalled or US -nals, -naling or -naled

to communicate (a message, etc) to (a person)
Derived Formssignaller or US signaler, noun

Word Origin for signal

C16: from Old French seignal, from Medieval Latin signāle, from Latin signum sign
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 signal

late 14c., "visible sign, indication," from Old French signal, seignal "seal, imprint, sign, mark," from Medieval Latin signale "a signal," from Late Latin signalis (adj.) "used as a signal, pertaining to a sign," from Latin signum "signal, sign" (see sign (n.)). Restricted sense "agreed-upon sign (to commence or desist, etc.) is from 1590s. Meaning "modulation of an electric current" is from 1855.


"remarkable, striking, notable" ("serving as a sign"), 1640s, from French signalé, past participle of signaler "to distinguish, signal" (see signal (n.)).


1805, "to make signals to," from signal (n.). Related: Signaled; signaling. Earlier verb was signalize (1650s).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

signal in Science



A fluctuating quantity or impulse whose variations represent information. The amplitude or frequency of voltage, current, electric field strength, light, and sound can be varied as signals representing information.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.