• synonyms


  1. a loose-fitting, broad-sleeved white vestment, worn over the cassock by clergy and choristers.
  2. a garment in which the two halves of the front cross diagonally.
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Origin of surplice

1250–1300; Middle English surplis < Anglo-French surpliz, syncopated variant of Old French surpeliz < Medieval Latin superpellīcium (vestīmentum) over-pelt (garment), neuter of superpellīcius (adj.), equivalent to Latin super- super- + pellīt(us) clothed with skins + -ius adj. suffix
Related formssur·pliced, adjectiveun·sur·pliced, adjective
Can be confusedsurplice surplus
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for surplice

Historical Examples of surplice

  • He returned the bottle to his pocket, and went to the vestry for his surplice.

    The Channings

    Mrs. Henry Wood

  • At length a priest in a surplice came out of a little cottage.


    Emile Zola

  • The old reprobate with the surplice burst into a volley of bad language.

  • In 1565 he, with the Fellows and scholars, appeared in Chapel without the surplice.

    St. John's College, Cambridge

    Robert Forsyth Scott

  • The sight of a surplice, the sound of bells, scares them away.

British Dictionary definitions for surplice


  1. a loose wide-sleeved liturgical vestment of linen, reaching to the knees, worn over the cassock by clergymen, choristers, and acolytes
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Derived Formssurpliced, adjective

Word Origin for surplice

C13: via Anglo-French from Old French sourpelis, from Medieval Latin superpellīcium, from super- + pellīcium coat made of skins, from Latin pellis a skin
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 surplice


"loose white robe," late 13c., from Old French surpeliz, from Medieval Latin superpellicium "a surplice," literally "an over fur garment," from Latin super "over" (see super-) + Medieval Latin pellicium "fur garment, tunic of skins," from Latin pellis "skin" (see film (n.)). So called because it was put on over fur garments worn by clergymen to keep warm in unheated medieval churches.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper