Last modified on 8 January 2015, at 23:22




From Middle English byworde (proverb), from Old English bīword, bīwyrde (proverb, household word", also "adverb), from bī- (by-) + word (word); probably a translation of Latin proverbium. Compare also Old High German pīwurti (proverb), Old English bīspel (proverb, example), bīcwide (byword, proverb, tale, fable). More at byspel.



byword (plural bywords)

  1. a proverb or proverbial expression, common saying; a frequently used word or phrase
  2. someone or something that stands (metonymically) for something else, by having some of that something's characteristic traits; byspel
  3. An object of notoriety or contempt.
    • 1890, Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, ch. XII:
      "I know you and Harry are inseparable. Surely for that reason, if for none other, you should not have made his sister's name a by-word."
  4. a nickname or epithet
  5. (by extension) an object of scorn or derision