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From Late Middle English altercacioun (quarrelling, wrangling; argument or discussion about a controversy, debate, disputation; argument advanced during a disputation) [and other forms],[1] from Anglo-Norman altercacion, altercacione, altercacioun, Middle French altercacion, altercation, and Old French altercation (quarrelling, wrangling; debate, disputation; question and answer in a law court) (modern French altercation), and from its etymon Latin altercātiōnem, the accusative singular of altercātiō (altercation, dispute; argument, debate; question and answer in a law court), from altercātus (argued) + -iō (suffix forming abstract nouns from verbs). Altercātus is the perfect active participle of altercor (to have a discussion or difference with another, argue, dispute, quarrel, wrangle; to contend, struggle; to put questions to someone in a law court), from alter (the other) (ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *h₂el- (other)) + -icō (suffix forming regular first-conjugation verbs, sometimes with a frequentative sense)[2]



altercation (countable and uncountable, plural altercations)

  1. (countable) An angry or heated dispute.
    Synonyms: argument, wrangle; see also Thesaurus:dispute
    got into an altercation over [something]
    The shooting resulted from an altercation between two armed intoxicated men.
    • 1665, Joseph Glanvill, “Scire/i tuum nihil est: Or, The Authors Defence of the Vanity of Dogmatizing; against the Exceptions of the Learned Tho. Albius [i.e., Thomas White] in His Late Sciri”, in Scepsis Scientifica: Or, Confest Ignorance, the Way to Science; [], London: [] E. C[otes] for Henry Eversden [], →OCLC, page 74:
      The truth of my Third Accuſation is confeſt, but the guilt, not acknovvledged; ſince that vvhich excites men to endleſs bavvlings, and altercations; Schiſms, Hereſies and Rebellions, by the vehemencies of Diſpute, is it ſeems vvith our Author no more noxious and criminal, then the Sun that ſtirrs men up to their vvork in the morning, by the importunity of it's beams.
    • 1753 (indicated as 1754), [Samuel Richardson], “Letter XIX. Miss Byron. In Continuation.”, in The History of Sir Charles Grandison. [], volume II, London: [] S[amuel] Richardson; [a]nd sold by C. Hitch and L. Hawes, [], →OCLC, page 138:
      An altercation cannot end in your favour.
    • 1840 January, Thomas Babington Macaulay, “[Robert] Lord Clive. []”, in Critical and Historical Essays, Contributed to the Edinburgh Review. [], 2nd edition, volume III, London: [] Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, [], published 1843, →OCLC, page 149:
      [I]n all the disputes in which he was engaged as an Englishman against Englishmen, from his boxing-matches at school to those stormy altercations at the India House and in Parliament amidst which his later years were passed, his very faults were those of a high and magnanimous spirit.
    • 1914 September – 1915 May, Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Man”, in The Valley of Fear: A Sherlock Holmes Novel, New York, N.Y.: George H[enry] Doran Company, published 27 February 1915, →OCLC, part II (The Scowrers), page 170:
      "What the hell is it to you who are my friends?" roared McMurdo in a voice which brought every head in the carriage round to witness the altercation.
  2. (countable, law, historical) An act of posing questions to, and obtaining answers from, a witness in a court of law.
    • 1768, William Blackstone, “Of Pleading”, in Commentaries on the Laws of England, book III (Of Private Wrongs), Oxford, Oxfordshire: [] Clarendon Press, →OCLC, page 310:
      The vvhole of this proceſs is denominated the pleading; in the ſeveral ſtages of vvhich it muſt be carefully obſerved, not to depart or vary from the title or defence, vvhich the party has once inſiſted on. For this (vvhich is called a departure in pleading) might occaſion endleſs altercation.
  3. (uncountable) Angry or heated disputation.
    • 1614, Walter Ralegh [i.e., Walter Raleigh], “That the 70. Years of Captiuitie are to be Numbred from the Destruction of Ierusalem; not from the Migration of Iechonia”, in The Historie of the World [], London: [] William Stansby for Walter Burre, [], →OCLC, 1st book, §. V (Of the Three Chiefest Iupiters; and the Strange Storie of the Third), page 5:
      VVee ſeldome find one peece of Scripture ſo preciſely and plainely expounded by another, as in this Prophecie, to haue aftervvards beene the Subiect of altercation.
    • 1651, Richard Baxter, “A Corrective for a Circumforaneous Antidote against the Verity of a Passage in the Epistle before My Treatise of Rest. Section I.”, in Plain Scripture Proof of Infants Church-membership and Baptism: [], London: [] Robert White; and are to be sold by Thomas Underhil, [], and Francis Tyton [], →OCLC, page 241:
      The greateſt of my trouble is, that I am forced to deal vvith a vvriting vvhich is filled vvith [] ſo many angry vvords, and ſo many hiſtoricall untruths, that, as I knovv my very mentioning the later vvill be ill taken, ſo I knovv not hovv to deal vvith the former. For if I ſhould pleaſe my ſelf in overpaſſing them, I knovv ſome vvill ſay his Book is unanſvvered, vvho take the ſtrength of it to lie in ſuch vvords: And if I anſvver it, as I ſhall but vveary a Judicious Reader, vvho looks for Arguments, and loathes altercation, ſo I ſhall be forced to ſpeak according to the matter; []
    • 1749, Henry Fielding, “Containing Scenes of Altercation, of No Very Uncommon Kind”, in The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, volume III, London: A[ndrew] Millar, [], →OCLC, book VII, pages 61–62:
      The tvvo Chambermaids being again left along, began a ſecond Bout at Altercation, vvhich ſoon produced a Combat of a more active Kind. In this the Victory belonged to the Lady of inferior Rank, but not vvithout ſome Loſs of Blood, of Hair, and of Lavvn and Muſlin.
    • 1864 May – 1865 November, Charles Dickens, “More Birds of Prey”, in Our Mutual Friend. [], volume I, London: Chapman and Hall, [], published 1865, →OCLC, book the second (Birds of a Feather), page 271:
      But she was here interrupted [] by her father's hat being heavily flung from his hand and striking her face. Accustomed to such occasional manifestations of his sense of parental duty, Pleasant merely wiped her face on her hair (which of course had tumbled down) before she twisted it up. This was another common procedure on the part of the ladies of the Hole, when heated by verbal or fistic altercation.

Related terms[edit]



  1. ^ altercāciǒun, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  2. ^ Compare “altercation, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2021; “altercation, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.




From Middle French altercacion, altercation, from Old French altercation, borrowed from Latin altercātiōnem.



altercation f (plural altercations)

  1. altercation

Further reading[edit]