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From Middle English discours, borrowed from Middle French discours (conversation, speech), from Latin discursus (the act of running about), from Latin discurrō (run about), from dis- (apart) + currō (run). Spelling modified by influence of Middle French cours (course). Doublet of discursus.



discourse (countable and uncountable, plural discourses)

  1. (uncountable, archaic) Verbal exchange, conversation.
    • 1847, Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, Chapter XVIII
      Two or three of the gentlemen sat near him, and I caught at times scraps of their conversation across the room. At first I could not make much sense of what I heard; for the discourse of Louisa Eshton and Mary Ingram, who sat nearer to me, confused the fragmentary sentences that reached me at intervals.
  2. (uncountable) Expression in words, either speech or writing.
    • 2012 March 1, Brian Hayes, “Pixels or Perish”, in American Scientist[1], volume 100, number 2, page 106:
      Drawings and pictures are more than mere ornaments in scientific discourse. Blackboard sketches, geological maps, diagrams of molecular structure, astronomical photographs, MRI images, the many varieties of statistical charts and graphs: These pictorial devices are indispensable tools for presenting evidence, for explaining a theory, for telling a story.
  3. (countable) A formal lengthy exposition of some subject, either spoken or written.
    The preacher gave us a long discourse on duty.
  4. (countable) Any rational expression, reason.
  5. (social sciences, countable) An institutionalized way of thinking, a social boundary defining what can be said about a specific topic (after Michel Foucault).
    • 2007, Christine L. Marran, Poison Woman: Figuring Female Transgression in Modern Japanese Culture, page 137:
      Furthermore, it should be recalled from the previous chapter that criminological discourse of the 1930s deemed every woman a potential criminal, implicitly including the domestic woman.
    • 2008, Jane Anna Gordon, Lewis Gordon, A Companion to African-American Studies (page 308)
      But equally important to the emergence of uniquely African-American queer discourses is the refusal of African-American movements for liberation to address adequately issues of sexual orientation and gender identity.
    • 2019 July 3, Jess Schwalb, “Red Line Rebellion”, in Jewish Currents[2]:
      Brown University's Friday Night Jews (FNJ) [...] began as an informal Shabbat dinner gathering in 2016, as a space for Jewish students who were feeling fed up with Hillel’s limitations regarding Israel/Palestine discourse, after the Brown/RISD Hillel rescinded sponsorship of a film screening by the Israeli nonprofit Zochrot, an organization that educates Jewish Israelis about the Nakba.
  6. (obsolete) Dealing; transaction.


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The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.


discourse (third-person singular simple present discourses, present participle discoursing, simple past and past participle discoursed)

  1. (intransitive) To engage in discussion or conversation; to converse.
  2. (intransitive) To write or speak formally and at length.
  3. (obsolete, transitive) To debate.
  4. To exercise reason; to employ the mind in judging and inferring; to reason.
  5. (obsolete, transitive) To produce or emit (musical sounds).
    • c. 1599, William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III, Scene 2, [3]
      Hamlet. [] Will you play upon this pipe? [] It is as easy as lying. Govern these ventages with your fingers and thumbs, give it breath with your mouth, and it will discourse most eloquent music.
    • 1911, James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, Volume II, Part II, Chapter V, p. 233, [4]
      Music discoursed on that melodious instrument, a Jew's harp, keeps the elfin women away from the hunter, because the tongue of the instrument is of steel.
    • 1915, Ralph Henry Barbour, The Secret Play, New York: D. Appleton & Co., Chapter XXIII, p. 300 [5]
      Dahl's Silver Cornet Band, augmented for the occasion to the grand total of fourteen pieces, discoursed sweet—well, discoursed music; let us not be too particular as to the quality of it.


  • (engage in discussion or conversation): converse, talk
  • (write or speak formally and at length):

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