spread oneself thin, to carry on so many projects simultaneously that none is done adequately, or that one's health suffers: Many college students spread themselves thin by taking on too many activities during the semester.

Origin of spread

1150–1200; Middle English spreden (v.), Old English sprǣdan; cognate with Middle Dutch spreden, German spreiten
Related formsan·ti·spread·ing, adjectivepre·spread, verb (used with object), pre·spread, pre·spread··spread, verb, re·spread, re·spread·ing.un·der·spread, verb (used with object), un·der·spread, un·der·spread·ing.un·spread, adjectiveun·spread·ing, adjective

Synonyms for spread Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for spread

Contemporary Examples of spread

Historical Examples of spread

  • Above, below, the rose of snow, Twined with her blushing foe we spread.

    The Armourer's Prentices

    Charlotte M. Yonge

  • The fame of the Nile valley must have spread at an early date.

    Ancient Man

    Hendrik Willem van Loon

  • Of course, we all like to play with fire, but I always put it out before it can spread.


    Thomas Wentworth Higginson

  • We began the 19th century with a choice, to spread our nation from coast to coast.

  • When the news had spread, others came to join him, and he could not refuse.

British Dictionary definitions for spread


verb spreads, spreading or spread

to extend or unfold or be extended or unfolded to the fullest widthshe spread the map on the table
to extend or cause to extend over a larger expanse of space or timethe milk spread all over the floor; the political unrest spread over several years
to apply or be applied in a coatingbutter does not spread very well when cold
to distribute or be distributed over an area or region
to display or be displayed in its fullest extentthe landscape spread before us
(tr) to prepare (a table) for a meal
(tr) to lay out (a meal) on a table
to send or be sent out in all directions; disseminate or be disseminatedsomeone has been spreading rumours; the disease spread quickly
(of rails, wires, etc) to force or be forced apart
to increase the breadth of (a part), esp to flatten the head of a rivet by pressing, hammering, or forging
(tr) agriculture
  1. to lay out (hay) in a relatively thin layer to dry
  2. to scatter (seed, manure, etc) over a relatively wide area
(tr often foll by around) informal to make (oneself) agreeable to a large number of people, often of the opposite sex
phonetics to narrow and lengthen the aperture of (the lips) as for the articulation of a front vowel, such as () in English see (siː)


the act or process of spreading; diffusion, dispersal, expansion, etcthe spread of the Christian religion
informal the wingspan of an aircraft
an extent of space or time; stretcha spread of 50 years
informal, mainly US and Canadian a ranch or relatively large tract of land
the limit of something fully extendedthe spread of a bird's wings
a covering for a table or bed
informal a large meal or feast, esp when it is laid out on a table
a food which can be spread on bread, etcsalmon spread
two facing pages in a book or other publication
a widening of the hips and waistmiddle-age spread
stock exchange
  1. the difference between the bid and offer prices quoted by a market maker
  2. the excess of the price at which stock is offered for public sale over the price paid for the same stock by an underwriter
  3. mainly USa double optionCompare straddle (def. 9)
jewellery the apparent size of a gemstone when viewed from above expressed in caratsa diamond with a spread of four carats


extended or stretched out, esp to the fullest extent
(of a gem) shallow and flat
  1. (of the lips) forming a long narrow aperture
  2. (of speech sounds) articulated with spread lips( ) in English "feel" is a spread vowel
Derived Formsspreadability, nounspreadable, adjective

Word Origin for spread

Old English sprǣdan; related to Old High German spreiten to spread, Old Lithuanian sprainas stiff
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 spread

c.1200, "to stretch out, to send in various directions," probably from Old English -sprædan (especially in tosprædan "to spread out," and gesprædung "spreading"), from Proto-Germanic *spraidijanan (cf. Danish sprede, Old Swedish spreda, Middle Dutch spreiden, Old High German and German spreiten "to spread"), probably from PIE *sper- "to strew" (see sprout (v.)). Reflexive sense of "to extend, expand" is attested from mid-14c.


1690s, "extent or expanse of something," from spread (v.). Meaning "copious meal" dates from 1822; sense of "food for spreading" (butter, jam, etc.) is from 1812. Sense of "bed cover" is recorded from 1848, originally American English. Meaning "degree of variation" is attested from 1929. Meaning "ranch for raising cattle" is attested from 1927.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper