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Monk wearing a cowl (Flemish, 15th century)
Spinning chimney cowls
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Etymology 1Edit

From Middle English coule, from Old English cūle, from earlier cugele (hood, cowl), from Ecclesiastical Latin cuculla (monk's cowl), from Latin cucullus (hood), of uncertain origin. Doublet of cagoule.


cowl (plural cowls)

  1. A monk's hood that can be pulled forward to cover the face; a robe with such a hood attached to it.
    • c. 1536, William Tyndale, An Exposycyon vpon the v. vi. vii. Chapters of Mathewe, An Exposycyon of the syxte Capiter,[1]
      And therfore al our monkes whose professyon was neuer to eate fleshe, set vp the Pope and toke dispensacyons bothe for that faste and also for theyr strayte rules, and made theyr strayte rules as wyde as the hodes of theyr cowles.
    • 1734, Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man, London: Lawton Gilliver, Epistle 4, p. 64,[2]
      “What differ more (you cry) than Crown and Cowl?”
      I’ll tell you, friend: a Wise man and a Fool.
    • 1820, Walter Scott, Ivanhoe, Chapter 16,[3]
      The hermit, as if wishing to answer to the confidence of his guest, threw back his cowl, and showed a round bullet head belonging to a man in the prime of life.
    • 1893, Kate Chopin, “Désirée’s Baby,”[4]
      The roof came down steep and black like a cowl, reaching out beyond the wide galleries that encircled the yellow stuccoed house.
    • 1939, John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, New York: Viking, 1958, Chapter 13, p. 193,[5]
      She brought the corner of the quilt over his head like a cowl and pulled it down over his face.
  2. A mask that covers the majority of the head.
  3. A thin protective covering over all or part of an engine; also cowling.
    • 1944, Nevil Shute, Pastoral, London: Pan Books, Chapter 8,[6]
      [] fire was spurting up from the torn engine cowl and glowing in the cockpit.
  4. A usually hood-shaped covering used to increase the draft of a chimney and prevent backflow.
    • 1928, Virginia Woolf, Orlando: A Biography, Penguin, 1942, Chapter 4, p. 157,[7]
      In the extreme clearness of the atmosphere the line of every roof, the cowl of every chimney was perceptible []
    • 1933, Dorothy L. Sayers, “Sleuths on the Scent” in Hangman’s Holiday, New York: Harper & Row, 1987, p. 96,[8]
      I’m sure I’m very sorry, but it’s always this way when the wind’s in the east, sir, and we’ve tried ever so many sorts of cowls and chimney-pots, you’d be surprised.
  5. (nautical) A ship's ventilator with a bell-shaped top which can be swivelled to catch the wind and force it below.
    • 1902, Joseph Conrad, Typhoon, Chapter 2,[9]
      He flung himself at the port ventilator as though he meant to tear it out bodily and toss it overboard. All he did was to move the cowl round a few inches, with an enormous expenditure of force, and seemed spent in the effort.
  6. (nautical) A vertical projection of a ship's funnel that directs the smoke away from the bridge.
  7. (metonymically) A monk.
Derived termsEdit

See alsoEdit



cowl (third-person singular simple present cowls, present participle cowling, simple past and past participle cowled)

  1. To cover with, or as if with, a cowl (hood).
    • 1817, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Human Life, On the Denial of Immortality” in Sibylline Leaves: A Collection of Poems, London: Rest Fenner, p. 269,[10]
      Why cowl thy face beneath the Mourner’s hood,
    • 1870, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Pelleas and Ettare” in The Holy Grail and Other Poems, London: Strahan, pp. 120-121,[11]
      But he by wild and way []
      Rode till the star above the wakening sun,
      Beside that tower where Percivale was cowl’d [i.e. became a monk],
      Glanced from the rosy forehead of the dawn.
    • 1945, Robert W. Service, Ploughman of the Moon, New York: Dodd, Mead, Chapter 8, p. 249,[12]
      The sky was cowled with cloud, all except a narrow chink where it met the horizon.
  2. To wrap or form (something made of fabric) like a cowl.
    • 1964, Hortense Calisher, Extreme Magic in Extreme Magic: A Novella and Other Stories, Boston: Little, Brown, p. 208,[13]
      When he came downstairs from the bar with the whiskies, she had found a sweater for herself and had cowled a thick raincoat over Sligo.
    • 1972, Edna O’Brien, Night, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1987, p. 70,[14]
      As the evenings got colder, he used to reach up and pull down the green baize cloth, and cowl it around himself and wear it like a kind of igloo.
  3. (transitive) To make a monk of (a person).

Etymology 2Edit

From Middle English cuuel, from Old French cuvel (vat), diminutive of cuve, from Latin cūpa (tub, cask, tun, vat).


cowl (plural cowls)

  1. (obsolete, Britain) A vessel carried on a pole, a soe.
Derived termsEdit

Etymology 3Edit

See caul, probably altered due to semantic association (“something covering the head”).


cowl (plural cowls)

  1. A caul (the amnion which encloses the foetus before birth, especially that part of it which sometimes shrouds a baby’s head at birth).
    • 1896, I. K. Friedman, The Lucky Number, Chicago: Way and Williams, “A Coat of One Color,” p. 55,[15]
      According to one of his accounts—and his accounts varied with his audience—he was the seventh son of a seventh son, and born with a cowl on his face []
    • 1982, André Brink, A Chain of Voices, New York: William Morrow, Part 3, “Campher,” p. 331,[16]
      [] I’d been born with a cowl, which from my earliest age prompted a wide variety of predictions about my future, alternately dire and enthusiastic.