English

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Etymology

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From Middle English poisounous, poysonouse, equivalent to poison +‎ -ous.

Pronunciation

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Adjective

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poisonous (comparative more poisonous, superlative most poisonous)

  1. Containing sufficient poison to be dangerous to touch or ingest.
    Synonyms: poisoned, toxic, venomous, (dialectal or archaic) attery
    Antonyms: nonpoisonous, unpoisonous
    While highly poisonous to dogs, this substance is completely harmless if ingested by humans.
    • 1757, John Dyer, “Book I”, in The Fleece: A Poem [] [1], London: R. and J. Dodsley, page 40:
      Nor taint-worm ſhall infect the yeaning herds / Nor penny-graſs, nor ſpearwort's poiſ'nous leaf.
    • 2003, Charles L. Fergus, Common Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms of the Northeast, Stackpole Books, →ISBN, page 77:
      I had picked a mushroom so poisonous that particles of it, stuck to my fingers and accidentally swallowed, could have made me deathly ill, and a piece the size of my thumb could have killed me.
  2. Of an animal such as a snake or spider, or parts of its body: producing a toxin intended for defensive or offensive use which is usually injected into an enemy or prey by biting or stinging; hence, of a bite or sting: injecting poison.
    Poisonous snakes should only be handled by experienced professionals.
    • 1787, F.S. Clavigero, The History of Mexico[2], London: G. G. J. and J. Robinson, page 60:
      The Cencoatl (o), which is alſo a poiſonous ſnake, is about five feet long, and eight inches round at the thickeſt part.
    • 1963, United States. Navy Department. Naval Operations Office, Poisonous Snakes of World[3], U.S. Government Printing Office, page 29:
      The characteristics which separate the dangerously venomous groups from their non-poisonous relatives are emphasized.
    • 2002, B. Kalman and K. Smithyman, The Life Cycle of a Spider[4], Crabtree Publishing Company, page 31:
      These antivenins make living near poisonous spiders much safer.
  3. (figuratively) Negative, harmful.
    Synonym: toxic
    • 2013, Kylie Griffin, Allegiance Sworn, Penguin, →ISBN:
      He didn't want to end up like his grandfather, bitter and intractable, consumed in his hatred like an addict on haze — a poisonous attitude that would possess him all his remaining years.

Usage notes

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Some speakers, especially in technical contexts, make a distinction between poisonous (releasing toxins when eaten), and venomous (releasing toxins (known as venom in this case) by biting or stinging a target).

Derived terms

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Translations

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