• synonyms


  1. any of several large, stately aquatic birds of the subfamily Anserinae, having a long, slender neck and usually pure-white plumage in the adult.Compare mute swan, trumpeter swan, whistling swan, whooper swan.
  2. a person or thing of unusual beauty, excellence, purity, or the like.
  3. Literary. a person who sings sweetly or a poet.
  4. (initial capital letter) Astronomy. the constellation Cygnus.
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Origin of swan1

before 900; Middle English, Old English; cognate with German Schwan, Old Norse svanr
Related formsswan·like, adjective


verb (used without object)
  1. Midland and Southern U.S. Older Use. to swear or declare (used with I): Well, I swan, I never expected to see you here!
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Origin of swan2

1775–85, Americanism; probably continuing dial. (N England) I s'wan, shortening of I shall warrant


  1. Sir Joseph Wilson,1828–1914, British chemist, electrical engineer, and inventor.
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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for swan


  1. any large aquatic bird of the genera Cygnus and Coscoroba, having a long neck and usually a white plumage: family Anatidae, order Anseriformes
  2. rare, literary
    1. a poet
    2. (capital when part of a title or epithet)the Swan of Avon (Shakespeare)
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verb swans, swanning or swanned
  1. (intr; usually foll by around or about) informal to wander idly
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Derived Formsswanlike, adjective

Word Origin

Old English; related to Old Norse svanr, Middle Low German swōn


  1. a river in SW Western Australia, rising as the Avon northeast of Narrogin and flowing northwest and west to the Indian Ocean below Perth. Length: about 240 km (150 miles)
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  1. Sir Joseph Wilson. 1828–1914, English physicist and chemist, who developed the incandescent electric light (1880) independently of Edison
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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 swan


Old English swan, from Proto-Germanic *swanaz (cf. Old Saxon swan, Old Norse svanr, Middle Dutch swane, Dutch zwaan, Old High German swan, German Schwan), probably literally "the singing bird," from PIE root *swon-/*swen- "to sing, make sound" (see sound (n.1)); thus related to Old English geswin "melody, song" and swinsian "to make melody."

In classical mythology, sacred to Apollo and to Venus. The singing of swans before death was alluded to by Chaucer (late 14c.), but swan-song (1831) is a translation of German Schwanengesang. Swan dive is recorded from 1898. A black swan was proverbial for "something extremely rare or non-existent" (late 14c.), after Juvenal ["Sat." vi. 164], but later they turned up in Australia.

"Do you say no worthy wife is to be found among all these crowds?" Well, let her be handsome, charming, rich and fertile; let her have ancient ancestors ranged about her halls; let her be more chaste than all the dishevelled Sabine maidens who stopped the war--a prodigy as rare upon the earth as a black swan! yet who could endure a wife that possessed all perfections? I would rather have a Venusian wench for my wife than you, O Cornelia, mother of the Gracchi, if, with all your virtues, you bring me a haughty brow, and reckon up Triumphs as part of your marriage portion. [Juvenal]
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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper