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1530, a term of endearment, probably a diminutive ( +‎ -y) of Dutch boel (lover; brother), from Middle Dutch boel, boele (brother; lover), from Old Dutch *bōlo, from Proto-Germanic *bōlô (compare Middle Low German bōle (brother), Middle High German buole ("brother; close relative; close relation"; > German Buhle (lover)), Old English Bōla, Bōlla (personal name), diminutive of expressive *bō- (brother, father). Compare also Latvian bālinš (brother). More at boy.

Term acquired negative senses during the 17th century; first 'noisy, blustering fellow' then 'a person who is cruel to others'. Possibly influenced by bull (male cattle) or via the 'prostitute's minder' sense.[1]



bully (countable and uncountable, plural bullies)

  1. A person who is cruel to others, especially those who are weaker or have less power. [from late 17th c.]
    A playground bully pushed a girl off the swing.
    I noticed you being a bully towards people with disabilities.
  2. A noisy, blustering fellow, more insolent than courageous; one who is threatening and quarrelsome; an insolent, tyrannical fellow.
    • 1840 September 22, Lord Palmerston, The Life of Henry John Temple, Viscount of Palmerston[1], volume 2, 3rd edition, published 1871, page 327:
      Besides, bullies seldom execute the threats they deal in; and men of trick and cunning are not always men of desperate resolves.
  3. A hired thug.
  4. A prostitute’s minder; a pimp.
  5. (uncountable) Bully beef.
  6. (obsolete) A brisk, dashing fellow.
  7. The small scrum in the Eton College field game.
  8. A small freshwater fish.
  9. (obsolete or dialectal, Ireland and Northern England) An (eldest) brother; a fellow workman; comrade
    • 1824, Gilchrist, Robert, “The Skipper's Erudition”, in A Collection of Original Local Songs[2], page 11:
      Frae Team Gut to Whitley, we' coals black an' brown
      For the Amphitrite loaded, the keel had come down—
      But the bullies ower neet had their gobs se oft wet,
      That the nyem o' the ship yen an' a' did forget.
  10. (dialectal) A companion; mate. (male or female)
  11. (obsolete) darling, sweetheart. (male or female)
    • c. 1599, Shakespeare, William, Henry V, Act 4, Scene 1:
      I kiss his dirty shoe, and from heart-string / I love the lovely bully. What is thy name?
    • 1753, Richardson, Samuel, “Letter 15”, in The History of Sir Charles Grandison:
      I have promised to be with the sweet bully early in the morning of her important day.
    • 1848, Carleton, William, Fardorougha the Miser[3], page 16:
      What! manim-an—kiss your child, man alive. That I may never, but he looks at the darlin’ as if it was a sod of turf! Throth you’re not worthy of havin’ such a bully.




bully (third-person singular simple present bullies, present participle bullying, simple past and past participle bullied)

  1. (transitive) To intimidate (someone) as a bully.
    You shouldn't bully people for being gay.
  2. (transitive) To act aggressively towards.
    • 2011 January 15, Sam Sheringham, “Chelsea 2 -03 Blackburn Rovers”, in BBC[4]:
      The Potters know their strengths and played to them perfectly here, out-muscling Bolton in midfield and bullying the visitors' back-line at every opportunity.




bully (comparative bullier, superlative bulliest)

  1. (US, slang) Very good; excellent.
    a bully horse
  2. (slang) Jovial and blustering; dashing.
    • Shakespeare
      Bless thee, bully doctor.


  • (excellent): For semantic relationships of this sense, see excellent in the Thesaurus.
  • (dashing):

Derived termsEdit




  1. (often followed by for) Well done!
    She's finally asked for that promotion—bully for her!




  1. ^ bully” in Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary, 2001–2017, retrieved 2017-05-05: “Meaning deteriorated 17c. through "fine fellow" and "blusterer" to "harasser of the weak" (1680s, from bully-ruffian, 1650s).”.