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a- +‎ foul



afoul (comparative more afoul, superlative most afoul)

  1. (archaic, principally nautical) In a state of collision or entanglement.
    The ships’ lines and sails were all afoul.
    • 1840, Richard Henry Dana Jr., Two Years Before the Mast, New York: Harper & Bros., Chapter 15, p. 137,[1]
      After paying out chain, we swung clear, but our anchors were no doubt afoul of hers.
    • 1849, William F. Lynch, The Naval Officer, Chapter 2, in Graham’s Magazine, Volume 34, Number 3, March 1849,[2]
      The atmosphere was soon thick and stifling, and the crews were working their guns with the energy of desperation, when a severe concussion, followed by a harsh and grating sound, told that the ships were afoul.
  2. (with of) In a state of entanglement or conflict (with).
    He had a knack for running afoul of the law.
    • 1851, Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, Chapter 29,[3]
      What the devil’s the matter with me? I don’t stand right on my legs. Coming afoul of that old man has a sort of turned me wrong side out.
    • 1957, “Still in Business,” Time, 15 December, 1957,[4]
      A hemispheric axiom has it that when a dictator falls afoul of Washington, his opponents are emboldened to try to topple him.
    • 1979, Bernard Malamud, Dubin’s Lives, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, Chapter Two, p. 79,[5]
      Kings came to hear [Vivaldi’s] concerts but in the end he ran afoul of the Pope’s nuncio and fell out of favor, presumably for neglecting to say Mass []
    • 1993, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, The Gripping Hand, New York: Pocket Books, 1994, Part 1, Chapter 3, p. 28,[6]
      He committed acts which put him afoul of Empire law, details classified, twenty-six years ago.

Usage notes[edit]

In contemporary English, afoul is mainly used in the phrases fall afoul (of) and run afoul (of).

Derived terms[edit]

Related terms[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • afoul at OneLook Dictionary Search
  • afoul in The Century Dictionary, The Century Co., New York, 1911.