English edit

Etymology edit

Inherited from Middle English signifien, from Old French signifier, from Latin significare.

Pronunciation edit

  • IPA(key): /ˈsɪɡnɪfaɪ/
  • (file)
  • Hyphenation: sig‧ni‧fy

Verb edit

signify (third-person singular simple present signifies, present participle signifying, simple past and past participle signified)

  1. To create a sign out of something.
  2. To give (something) a meaning or an importance. (The addition of quotations indicative of this usage is being sought:)
  3. To show one’s intentions with a sign etc.; to indicate, announce.
    • c. 1593 (date written), William Shakespeare, “The Tragedy of Richard the Third: []”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act I, scene iv]:
      I’ll to the king; and signify to him / That thus I have resign’d my charge to you.
    • 1611, The Holy Bible, [] (King James Version), London: [] Robert Barker, [], →OCLC, Acts 25:27:
      For it seemeth to me unreasonable to send a prisoner, and not withal to signify the crimes laid against him.
    • 1729, Jonathan Swift, Thomas Sheridan, “The Hardships of the Irish being deprived of their Silver, and decoyed into America,”, in The Intelligencer[1], number 19, pages 207–208:
      In my humble Opinion, it would be no unseasonable Condescension, if the Government would Graciously please to signify to the pour loyal Protestant Subjects of Ireland, either that this miserable Want of Silver, is not possible to be remedy’d in any Degree [] or else, that it doth not stand with the good Pleasure of England, to suffer any Silver at all among us.
    • 1886 May – 1887 April, Thomas Hardy, The Woodlanders [], volumes (please specify |volume=I to III), London, New York, N.Y.: Macmillan and Co., published 1887, →OCLC:
      Tapping at the window, he signified that she should open the casement, and when she had done this he handed in the key to her.
    • 1952, Neville Shute, “Chapter Two”, in The Far Country[2], London: Heinemann:
      “Do you want to write a cheque, Granny?” The old eyes signified assent.
  4. To mean; to betoken.
    • c. 1606 (date written), William Shakespeare, “The Tragedie of Macbeth”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act V, scene v]:
      Life’s [] a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing.
    • 1841 February–November, Charles Dickens, “Barnaby Rudge”, in Master Humphrey’s Clock, volume II, London: Chapman & Hall, [], →OCLC, chapter 7:
      Mrs Varden was a lady of what is commonly called an uncertain temper—a phrase which being interpreted signifies a temper tolerably certain to make everybody more or less uncomfortable.
    • 1961, Walker Percy, “Chapter Four”, in The Moviegoer[3], New York: Avon, published 1980, page 143:
      Leaning over, she gives Uncle Oscar a furious affectionate pat which signifies that he is a good fellow and we all love him. It also signifies that he can shut up.
    • 1984, Julian Barnes, “Chapter 11”, in Flaubert’s Parrot, New York: Vintage, published 1990:
      There are three messages which can be sent by means of the convolvulus. A white one signifies Why are you fleeing me? A pink one signifies I shall bind myself to you. A blue one signifies I shall wait for better days.
  5. To make a difference; to matter (in negative or interrogative expressions).
    • 1699, uncredited translator, “Of the Heart”, in The Characters, or, The Manners of the Age[4], London: John Bullord, translation of original by Jean de La Bruyère, page 84:
      To be but in the company of those we love, satisfies us: it does not signify whether we speak to ’em or not, whether we think on them or on indifferent things. To be near ’em is all.
    • 1722 (indicated as 1721), [Daniel Defoe], The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, &c. [], London: [] W[illiam Rufus] Chetwood, []; and T. Edling, [], published 1722, →OCLC, pages 339–340:
      VVell ſays I, and are you thus eaſy? ay, ſays ſhe, I can’t help myſelf, vvhat ſignifyes being ſad? If I am hang’d there’s an End of me, ſays ſhe, and avvay ſhe turns Dancing, and Sings as ſhe goes, []
    • 1793, John Aikin, Evenings at Home[5], volume 3, London: J. Johnson, Thirteenth Evening, page 67:
      I told her it was not I that broke her window, but it did not signify; so she dragged me to the light, lugging and scratching me all the while, and then said she would inform against me []
    • 1817 December 31 (indicated as 1818), [Walter Scott], Rob Roy. [], volume I, Edinburgh: [] James Ballantyne and Co. for Archibald Constable and Co. []; London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, →OCLC:
      Well, it does not signify complaining, but there are three things for which I am much to be pitied, if any one thought it worth while to waste any compassion upon me.
    • 1865 November (indicated as 1866), Lewis Carroll [pseudonym; Charles Lutwidge Dodgson], chapter 12, in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, London: Macmillan and Co., →OCLC:
      Alice looked at the jury-box, and saw that, in her haste, she had put the Lizard in head downwards [] She soon got it out again, and put it right; ‘not that it signifies much,’ she said to herself; ‘I should think it would be quite as much use in the trial one way up as the other.’
    • 1938, Graham Greene, Brighton Rock[6], London: Heinemann, published 1962, Part One, Chapter 3, page 37:
      “He was Charles. You can read it there. Charles Hale.” / “That don’t signify,” Ida said. “A man always has a different name for strangers. []

Synonyms edit

Derived terms edit

Translations edit

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