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

The 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] The positive senses are dated, but survive in phrases such as bully pulpit.


  • IPA(key): /ˈbʊli/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -ʊli


bully (countable and uncountable, plural bullies)

  1. A person who is intentionally physically or emotionally cruel to others, especially to those whom they perceive as being vulnerable or of less power or privilege. [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, tyrannical person, more insolent than courageous; one who is threatening and quarrelsome.
    • 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.
    Synonyms: henchman, thug
  4. A sex worker’s minder.
    Synonyms: pimp; see also Thesaurus:pimp
    • 2009, Dan Cruikshank, Secret History of Georgian London, Random House, p. 473:
      The Proclamation Society and the Society for the Suppression of Vice were more concerned with obscene literature […] than with hands-on street battles with prostitutes and their bullies […].
  5. (uncountable) Bully beef.
  6. (obsolete) A brisk, dashing fellow.
  7. The small scrum in the Eton College field game.
  8. Various small freshwater or brackishwater fish of the family Eleotridae; sleeper goby.
  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).
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:friend
  11. (obsolete) A darling, sweetheart (male or female).
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:sweetheart
    • 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.
  12. (field hockey) A standoff between two players from the opposing teams, who repeatedly hit each other's hockey sticks and then attempt to acquire the ball, as a method of resuming the game in certain circumstances. Also called bully-off.
  13. (mining) A miner's hammer.



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

  1. (transitive) To intimidate (someone) as a bully.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:intimidate
    • 1938, Norman Lindsay, Age of Consent, Sydney: Ure Smith, published 1962, page 218:
      Bradly's stomach kinked in on itself, thinking of Cora struck silly with that corpse on her hands and the copper bullying the truth out of her.
    You shouldn't bully people for being gay.
  2. (transitive) To act aggressively towards.
    Synonyms: push around, ride roughshod over
    • 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.
    Synonyms: excellent; see also Thesaurus:excellent
    a bully horse
    • 1861, Daniel Bryant, Bryant's Songs from Dixie's Land[5], page 19:
      To sing a bully song I'll try, / Bully for you, bully for you, / Gay as they make them, here I am, / Bully for you, for you.
    • 1916, The Independent (volumes 35-36, page 6)
      She is a bully woman, not only a good mother, but a wonderful in-law
  2. (slang, obsolete) Jovial and blustering.
    Synonym: dashing
    • 1597, William Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor Act II, scene iii:
      Bless thee, bully doctor!

Derived termsEdit




  1. (often followed by for) Well done!
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:well done
    Bully, she's finally asked for that promotion!
    • 1979, Jerome Alden, Bully: An Adventure with Teddy Roosevelt, OCLC 4665204, page 3:
      Bully! Bully! Finis coronet opus, “the end crowns all”; “may the last be the best!” By Godfrey it was delightful.


Further readingEdit


  1. ^ Douglas Harper (2001–2021), “bully”, in Online Etymology Dictionary, retrieved 2017-05-05: “Meaning deteriorated 17c. through "fine fellow" and "blusterer" to "harasser of the weak" (1680s, from bully-ruffian, 1650s).”.



Borrowed from English bully, itself a derivation of Dutch boel (lover; brother).


  • IPA(key): /ˈbu.li/
  • Hyphenation: bul‧ly


bully m (plural bully's)

  1. (field hockey) bully (way of resuming the game with a standoff between two opposing players who repeatedly hit each other's sticks, then try to gain possession of the ball)



bully m (plural bullys or bullies or bully)

  1. bully