See also: sméar



From Middle English smeren, smerien, from Old English smerian, smyrian, smierwan (to anoint or rub with grease, oil, etc.), from Proto-Germanic *smirwijaną. Cognate with Saterland Frisian smeere, Dutch smeren, Low German smeren, German schmieren.



smear (third-person singular simple present smears, present participle smearing, simple past and past participle smeared)

  1. (transitive) To spread (a substance, especially one that colours or is dirty) across a surface by rubbing.
    Synonyms: apply, daub, plaster, spread
    The artist smeared paint over the canvas in broad strokes.
    • 1776, Oliver Goldsmith, A Survey of Experimental Philosophy, London: T. Carnan and F. Newbery, Chapter 5, p. 74,[2]
      In general, all bodies whose surfaces are even will [] stick to each other, and if a liquid be smeared over either surface, their cohesion will be still the stronger.
    • 2019, Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, New York: Penguin,[3]
      Then you would kneel and smear a handful of pomade through my hair, comb it over.
  2. (transitive) To cover (a surface with a layer of some substance) by rubbing.
    Synonyms: bedaub, coat, cover, daub, layer, plaster
    She smeared her lips with lipstick.
    • c. 1605, William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act II, Scene 2,[4]
      Why did you bring these daggers from the place?
      They must lie there: go carry them; and smear
      The sleepy grooms with blood.
    • 1667, John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 10 [11], lines 725-727,[5]
      [] a Vessel of huge bulk,
      Measur’d by Cubit, length, & breadth, and highth,
      Smeard round with Pitch,
    • 1964, Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man, London: Vintage, 2010, p. 53,[6]
      [] it’s better if we admit to disliking and hating them, than if we try to smear our feelings over with pseudo-liberal sentimentality.
  3. (transitive) To make something dirty.
    Synonyms: besmirch, dirty, soil, sully
    • 1583, Arthur Golding (translator), The Sermons of M. John Calvin upon the Fifth Book of Moses called Deuteronomie, London: George Bishop, Sermon 41, p. 246,[7]
      A man may bee smeared or grimed, and euerie man shall laugh at him, and yet he himselfe shall not perceiue it a whit.
    • 1855, Elizabeth Gaskill, North and South, London: Chapman and Hall, Volume 2, Chapter 11, p. 147,[8]
      [] she returned, carrying Johnnie, his face all smeared with eating,
    • 2016, Ali Smith, Autumn, Penguin, 2017, Chapter 2,[9]
      His hands and forearms, his face, his good shirt and suit are smeared from the dustbins and climbing the fence,
  4. (transitive) (of a substance, etc.) To make a surface dirty by covering it.
  5. (transitive) To damage someone's reputation by slandering, misrepresenting, or otherwise making false accusations about them, their statements, or their actions.
    Synonyms: badmouth, besmirch, defame, sully, vilify
    The opposition party attempted to smear the candidate by spreading incorrect and unverifiable rumors about their personal behavior.
    • 1914, James Joyce, “Ivy Day in the Committee Room” in Dubliners, London: Grant Richards, p. 164,[13]
      May everlasting shame consume
      The memory of those who tried
      To befoul and smear th’ exalted name
      Of one who spurned them in his pride.
    • 1976, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, “J.M.—A Writer’s Tribute” in Writers in Politics, London: Heinemann, 1981, p. 82,[14]
      The imperialist foreigners then in the offices of the Nation Newspapers would not allow the African staff to review it. They handled it themselves in order to smear the book and its author and his celebration of Mau Mau resistance.
    • 2018, Richard Powers, The Overstory, New York: Norton, “Neelay Mehta,”[15]
      They’ll smear him on the country’s dial-up bulletin boards as the worst traitor.
  6. (transitive) To cause (something) to be messy or not clear by rubbing and spreading it.
    Synonyms: blur, smudge
    • 1850, Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, London: Bradbury and Evans, Chapter 44, p. 457,[16]
      When she had entered two or three laborious items in the account-book, Jip would walk over the page, wagging his tail, and smear them all out.
    • 1954, J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, New York: Ballantine, 1973, Book 2, Chapter 5, p. 419,[17]
      Then there are four lines smeared so that I can only read went 5 days ago.
    • 2007, Tan Twan Eng, The Gift of Rain, New York: Weinstein Books, Book 1, Chapter 5, p. 56,[18]
      Bird droppings, smeared by the strokes of rain and dried by the heat, streaked its sides.
  7. (intransitive) To become messy or not clear by being spread.
    Synonym: smudge
    The paint is still wet — don't touch it or it will smear.
  8. (transitive) To write or draw (something) by spreading a substance on a surface.
  9. (transitive) To cause (something) to be a particular colour by covering with a substance.
    • 1864, Richard F. Burton, A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome, London: Tinsley Brothers, Volume 1, Chapter 3, p. 43,[22]
      small wooden dolls smeared red as though with blood
    • 1917, William Carlos Williams, “Pastoral” in Al Que Quiere!, Boston: The Four Seas Company, p. 15,[23]
      the fences and outhouses
      built of barrel-staves
      and parts of boxes, all,
      if I am fortunate,
      smeared a bluish green
    • 1993, Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy, Penguin, 1994, Chapter 2.1, p. 73,[24]
      They paid the tonga-wallah double his regular fare and smeared his forehead pink and that of his horse green for good measure.
  10. (transitive) To rub (a body part, etc.) across a surface.
    • 1861, Charles Dickens, Great Expectations, London: Chapman and Hall, Volume 1, Chapter 3, p. 37,[25]
      [] he smeared his ragged rough sleeve over his eyes.
    • 1979, William Styron, Sophie’s Choice, New York: Random House, Chapter 3, p. 58,[26]
      With the lazy appetite of a calf mooning over a salt lick, he smeared his sizable nose against her face,
    • 2013, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah, New York: Knopf, Chapter 6, p. 74,[27]
      [] what was it with all those village people who could not stand on their feet without reaching out to smear their palm on a wall?
  11. (transitive) To attempt to remove (a substance) from a surface by rubbing.
    • 1839, Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, London: Richard Bentley, Volume 1, Chapter 13, p. 198,[28]
      He had [] a dirty belcher handkerchief round his neck, with the long frayed ends of which he smeared the beer from his face as he spoke:
    • 1926, D. H. Lawrence, The Plumed Serpent, London: Heinemann, 1955, Chapter 5, p. 85,[29]
      The boatman rowed short and hard [] , only pausing at moments swiftly to smear the sweat from his face with an old rag he kept on the bench beside him.
    • 1960, Katherine Anne Porter, “Holiday” in Douglas and Sylvia Angus (eds.), Contemporary American Short Stories, New York: Ballantine, 1983, p. 323,[30]
      [] she stood and shook with silent crying, smearing away her tears with the open palm of her hand.
  12. (climbing) To climb without using footholds, using the friction from the shoe to stay on the wall.

Derived termsEdit



smear (countable and uncountable, plural smears)

A bacterial smear
  1. A mark made by smearing.
    Synonym: streak
    This detergent cleans windows without leaving smears.
    • 1886, Thomas Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge, London: Smith, Elder, Volume 2, Chapter 8, p. 108,[31]
      A smear of decisive lead-coloured paint had been laid on to obliterate Henchard’s name, though its letters dimly loomed through like ships in a fog.
    • 1933, Robert Byron, First Russia, Then Tibet, London: Macmillan, Part 2, Chapter 8,[32]
      Vast avalanches had left their dirty smears on the opposing slopes,
    • 1952, Nevil Shute, The Far Country, London: Heinemann, Chapter 2,[33]
      she bought a couple of rolls filled with a thin smear of potted meat for her breakfast
    • 2005, John Banville, The Sea, London: Picador, Part 2, p. 228,[34]
      I could see the roofs of the town on the horizon, and farther off and higher up, a tiny silver ship propped motionless on a smear of pale sea.
  2. (countable, uncountable) A false or unsupported, malicious statement intended to injure a person's reputation.
    Synonyms: calumny, slander, slur, mudslinging
    • 1752, Theophilus Cibber, A Lick at a Liar, London: R. Griffiths, p. 7,[35]
      I should have held him quite beneath my Notice, as is all he utters, but that the Appetite of Slander, in many, is too predominant; and, ’tis possible, when the filthiest Fellow throws a Profusion of Dirt, some may chance to stick, if not timely thrown off; I shall endeavour therefore, to wipe away the sooty Smears of this Chimney-sweeper, by relating a simple Fact, which will, I flatter myself, amply confute the malicious Tales of this unprovoked, rancorous Mortal:
    • a. 1969, John Kennedy Toole, chapter 13, in A Confederacy of Dunces, Penguin, published 1981, →ISBN, page 289:
      “I’d rather not [read the newspaper article]. It’s probably full of falsification and smear. The yellow journalists doubtlessly suggested all sorts of lip-smacking innuendoes.”
  3. (biology) A preparation to be examined under a microscope, made by spreading a thin layer of a substance (such as blood, bacterial culture) on a slide.[1]
    Synonym: squash
  4. (medicine) A Pap smear (screening test for cervical cancer).
    Synonyms: cervical smear, Pap test
    I'm going to the doctor's this afternoon for a smear.
  5. (radio, television, uncountable) Any of various forms of distortion that make a signal harder to see or hear.
    • 1954, Radio & Television News: Radio-electronic engineering section
      In television terms, a certain amount of smear, ringing, and anticipatory overshoot are indigenous to VSB transmission.
    • 1972, Scientific and Technical Aerospace Reports
      Results show the reduction in intelligibility produced by changing the filter condition was much greater than reductions caused by altering smear duration.
  6. (climbing) A maneuver in which the shoe is placed onto the holdless rock, and the friction from the shoe keeps it in contact
  7. (music) A rough glissando in jazz music.

Derived termsEdit



  1. ^ Edwin Benzel Steen, Dictionary of Biology, New York: Barnes & Noble, 1971.[1]