verb (used with object), spanned, span·ning.

Origin of span

before 900; (noun) Middle English spanne, sponne, spayn, Old English span(n), spon(n); cognate with German Spanne, Dutch span, Old Norse spǫnn; (v.) Middle English spaynen, derivative of the noun




a pair of horses or other animals harnessed and driven together.

Origin of span

1760–70, Americanism; < Dutch: team (of oxen, horses)

Synonyms for span

team. See pair.



verb Archaic.

a simple past tense of spin.



verb (used with object), spun or (Archaic) span, spun, spin·ning.

to make (yarn) by drawing out, twisting, and winding fibers: Pioneer women spun yarn on spinning wheels.
to form (the fibers of any material) into thread or yarn: The machine spins nylon thread.
(of spiders, silkworms, etc.) to produce (a thread, cobweb, gossamer, silk, etc.) by extruding from the body a long, slender filament of a natural viscous matter that hardens in the air.
to cause to turn around rapidly, as on an axis; twirl; whirl: to spin a coin on a table.
Informal. to play (phonograph records): a job spinning records on a radio show.
Metalworking. to shape (sheet metal) into a hollow, rounded form by pressure from a tool while rotating the metal on a lathe or wheel.
to produce, fabricate, or evolve in a manner suggestive of spinning thread: to spin a tale of sailing ships and bygone days.
Rocketry. to cause intentionally (a rocket or guided missile) to undergo a roll.
to draw out, protract, or prolong (often followed by out): He spun the project out for over three years.
British. to flunk a student in an examination or a term's work.
Slang. to cause to have a particular bias; influence in a certain direction: His assignment was to spin the reporters after the president's speech.

verb (used without object), spun or (Archaic) span, spun, spin·ning.

to revolve or rotate rapidly, as the earth or a top.
to produce a thread from the body, as spiders or silkworms.
to produce yarn or thread by spinning.
to move, go, run, ride, or travel rapidly.
to have a sensation of whirling; reel: My head began to spin and I fainted.
to fish with a spinning or revolving bait.


the act of causing a spinning or whirling motion.
a spinning motion given to a ball, wheel, axle, or other object.
a downward movement or trend, especially one that is sudden, alarming, etc.: Steel prices went into a spin.
a rapid run, ride, drive, or the like, as for exercise or enjoyment: They went for a spin in the car.
Slang. a particular viewpoint or bias, especially in the media; slant: They tried to put a favorable spin on the news coverage of the controversial speech.
Also called tailspin, tail spin. Aeronautics. a maneuver in which an airplane descends in a vertical direction along a helical path of large pitch and small radius at an angle of attack greater than the critical angle, dangerous when not done intentionally or under control.
  1. the act of intentionally causing a rocket or guided missile to undergo a roll.
  2. a roll so caused.
Also called spin angular momentum. Physics. the intrinsic angular momentum characterizing each kind of elementary particle, having one of the values 0, 1/2, 1/3, … when measured in units of Planck's constant divided by 2π.
Australian. a run of luck; fate.

Verb Phrases

spin off,
  1. to create something new, as a company or assets, without detracting from or affecting the relative size or stability of the original: After the acquisition, the company was required to spin off about a third of its assets.
  2. to derive from or base on something done previously: They took the character of the maid and spun off another TV series.

Origin of spin

before 900; Middle English spinnen to spin yarn, Old English spinnan; cognate with Dutch, German spinnen, Old Norse spinna, Gothic spinnan
Related formsspin·na·bil·i·ty, nounspin·na·ble, adjectiveout·spin, verb (used with object), out·spun, out·spin·ning.un·spin·na·ble, adjective

Synonyms for spin

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

Examples from the Web for span

Contemporary Examples of span

Historical Examples of span

  • And each of us, in the span of time, has really only a moment among our companions.

  • I don't know I ever did see the house so spick and span before!

    Alice Adams

    Booth Tarkington

  • She span round and fell all of a heap upon the tiled flooring.

    His Masterpiece

    Emile Zola

  • What was it to her if the Airly's did keep a span, and drive out every day?

    The Elm Tree Tales

    F. Irene Burge Smith

  • By quiet indications the bridge would be built and span their lives with beauty.

    Howards End

    E. M. Forster

British Dictionary definitions for span




the interval, space, or distance between two points, such as the ends of a bridge or arch
the complete duration or extentthe span of his life
psychol the amount of material that can be processed in a single mental actapprehension span; span of attention
short for wingspan
a unit of length based on the width of an expanded hand, usually taken as nine inches

verb spans, spanning or spanned (tr)

to stretch or extend across, over, or around
to provide with something that extends across or aroundto span a river with a bridge
to measure or cover, esp with the extended hand

Word Origin for span

Old English spann; related to Old Norse sponn, Old High German spanna




a team of horses or oxen, esp two matched animals

Word Origin for span

C16 (in the sense: yoke): from Middle Dutch: something stretched, from spannen to stretch; see span 1




archaic, or dialect a past tense of spin


abbreviation for



verb spins, spinning or spun

to rotate or cause to rotate rapidly, as on an axis
  1. to draw out and twist (natural fibres, as of silk or cotton) into a long continuous thread
  2. to make such a thread or filament from (synthetic resins, etc), usually by forcing through a nozzle
(of spiders, silkworms, etc) to form (webs, cocoons, etc) from a silky fibre exuded from the body
(tr) to shape (metal) into a rounded form on a lathe
(tr) informal to tell (a tale, story, etc) by drawing it out at great length (esp in the phrase spin a yarn)
to bowl, pitch, hit, or kick (a ball) so that it rotates in the air and changes direction or speed on bouncing, or (of a ball) to be projected in this way
(intr) (of wheels) to revolve rapidly without causing propulsion
to cause (an aircraft) to dive in a spiral descent or (of an aircraft) to dive in a spiral descent
(intr foll by along) to drive or travel swiftly
Also: spin-dry (tr) to rotate (clothes) in a washing machine in order to extract surplus water
(intr) to reel or grow dizzy, as from turning aroundmy head is spinning
(intr) to fish by drawing a revolving lure through the water
(intr) informal to present news or information in a way that creates a favourable impression


a swift rotating motion; instance of spinning
  1. the intrinsic angular momentum of an elementary particle or atomic nucleus, as distinguished from any angular momentum resulting from its motion
  2. a quantum number determining values of this angular momentum in units of the Dirac constant, having integral or half-integral valuesSymbol: S, s
a condition of loss of control of an aircraft or an intentional flight manoeuvre in which the aircraft performs a continuous spiral descent because the angle of maximum lift is less than the angle of incidence
a spinning motion imparted to a ball, etc
(in skating) any of various movements involving spinning rapidly on the spot
informal a short or fast drive, ride, etc, esp in a car, for pleasure
flat spin informal, mainly British a state of agitation or confusion
Australian and NZ informal a period of time or an experience; chance or luck; fortunea bad spin
commerce informal a sudden downward trend in prices, values, etc
informal the practice of presenting news or information in a way that creates a favourable impression
on the spin informal one after anotherthey have lost two finals on the spin
See also spin off, spin out

Word Origin for spin

Old English spinnan; related to Old Norse spinna, Old High German spinnan to spin, Lithuanian pinu to braid
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 span

"distance between two objects," Old English span "distance between the thumb and little finger of an extended hand," probably related to Middle Dutch spannen "to join, fasten" (see span (n.2)).

The Germanic word was borrowed into Medieval Latin as spannus, hence Italian spanna, Old French espanne, French empan. As a measure of length, roughly nine inches. Meaning "length of time" first attested 1590s; that of "space between abutments of an arch, etc." is from 1725. Meaning "maximum lateral dimension of an aircraft" is first recorded 1909. Attention span is recorded from 1922.


"two animals driven together," 1769, from Dutch span, from spannen "to stretch or yoke," from Middle Dutch spannen, cognate with Old English spannen "to join" (see span (v.)).


Old English spannen "to clasp, fasten, stretch, span," from Proto-Germanic *spanwanan (cf. Old Norse spenna, Old Frisian spanna, Middle Dutch spannen, Old High German spannan, German spannen), from PIE root *(s)pen- "to draw, stretch, spin" (cf. Latin pendere "to hang, to cause to hang," pondus "weight" (the weight of a thing measured by how much it stretches a cord), pensare "to weigh, consider;" Greek ponein "to toil;" Lithuanian spendziu "lay a snare;" Old Church Slavonic peti "stretch, strain," pato "fetter," pina "I span;" Old English spinnan "to spin;" for other cognates, see spin (v.)). The meaning "to encircle with the hand(s)" is from 1781; in the sense of "to form an arch over (something)" it is first recorded 1630s.



Old English spinnan "draw out and twist fibers into thread," from Proto-Germanic *spenwanan (cf. Old Norse and Old Frisian spinna, Danish spinde, Dutch spinnen, Old High German spinnan, German spinnen, Gothic spinnan), from PIE *(s)pen- "stretch" (cf. Armenian henum "I weave;" Greek patos "garment, literally "that which is spun;" Lithuanian pinu "I plait, braid," spandau "I spin;" Middle Welsh cy-ffiniden "spider;" see span (v.)).

Sense of "to cause to turn rapidly" is from 1610s; meaning "revolve, turn around rapidly" first recorded 1660s. Meaning "attempt to influence reporters' minds after an event has taken place but before they have written about it" seems to have risen to popularity in the 1984 U.S. presidential campaign; e.g. spin doctor, first attested 1984. Spinning wheel is attested from c.1400; spinning-jenny is from 1783 (see jenny); invented by James Hargreaves c.1764-7, patented 1770.



"fairly rapid ride," 1856, from spin (v.).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

span in Science



The intrinsic angular momentum of a rigid body or particle, especially a subatomic particle. Also called spin angular momentum
The total angular momentum of a physical system, such as an electron orbital or an atomic nucleus.
A quantum number expressing spin angular momentum; the actual angular momentum is a quantum number multiplied by Dirac's constant. Fermions have spin values that are integer multiples of 12, while bosons have spin values that are integer multiples of 1.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Idioms and Phrases with span


see spick and span.


In addition to the idioms beginning with spin

  • spin a yarn
  • spin control
  • spin doctor
  • spin off
  • spin one's wheels
  • spin out

also see:

  • go into a tailspin
  • make one's head spin
  • put a spin on
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.