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  • enPR: bĭsh'əp, IPA(key): /ˈbɪʃəp/
  • (file)

Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English bischop, bishop, bisshop, biscop, from Old English bisċop (bishop), from British Latin *biscopo or Vulgar Latin (e)biscopus, from classical Latin episcopus (overseer, supervisor), from Ancient Greek ἐπίσκοπος (epískopos, overseer), from ἐπί (epí, over) + σκοπός (skopós, watcher), used in Greek and Latin both generally and as a title of civil officers. Cognate with all European terms for the position in various Christian churches; compare bisp.

Alternative forms[edit]

A Staunton bishop (chess)
Danish Lutheran bishops (Christianity).


bishop (plural bishops, feminine bishopess)

  1. (Christianity) An overseer of congregations: either any such overseer, generally speaking, or (in Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Anglicanism, etc.) an official in the church hierarchy (actively or nominally) governing a diocese, supervising the church's priests, deacons, and property in its territory.
    • 1641, “Smectymnuus”, in Vindic. Answer Hvmble Remonstr., §16. 208:
      King James of blessed memory said, no Bishop, no King: it was not he, but others that added, No Ceremony, no Bishop.
    • 1715, William Hendley, A Defence of the Church of England, section 16:
      St. Ignatius... In his 'Epiſtle to the Magneſians,' he exhorts them to do all things in the love of God, telling them, the Biſhop preſides in the place of God...
    • 1845, J. Lingard, Hist. & Antiq. Anglo-Saxon Church, 3rd edition, I. iv. 146:
      These ministers were at first confined to the three orders of bishops, priests, and deacons.
    • 1868, Joseph Barber Lightfoot, St. Paul's epistle to the Philippians, section 93:
      It is a fact now generally recognized by theologians of all shades of opinion, that in the language of the New Testament the same officer in the Church is called indifferently ‘bishopἐπίσκοπος and ‘elder’ or ‘presbyterπρεσβύτερος.
    • 2013, Maureen Abbott, New Lights from Old Truths: Living the Signs of the Times[1], volume IV, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, →ISBN, →OCLC, page 375:
      The Jubilee Mass had a special solemnity due to the presence of two exiled Chinese bishops—Thomas Cardinal Tien, Archbishop of Peking, and Bishop Joseph Yuen, of Chu-ma-tien, Honan—as well as the recently named bishop of Taichung, Formosa, Most Rev. William Kupfer, MM, who was in the United States to attend the Maryknoll General Chapter.
    1. (religion, nonstandard) A similar official or chief priest in another religion.
      • 1586, Pierre de la Primaudaye, translated by Thomas Bowes, The French Academie, I. 633:
        The Caliphaes of the Sarasins were kings and chiefe bishops in their religion.
      • 1615, William Bedwell, Arabian Trudgman in translating Mohammedis Imposturæ, sig. N4
        The Byshop of Egypt is called the Souldan.
      • 2001, José Carlos Valle Pérez, Jorge Rodrigues, El arte románico en Galicia y Portugal, page 254:
        [] which explains the beheading of the Muslim Bishop of Lisbon, soon after the Reconquista.
      • 2018, Merran Fraenkel, Tribe and Class in Monrovia, page 139:
        The [holder of the office of] Imam [of Monrovia] is commonly referred to, both in conversation and in the press, as ‘the Muslim Bishop’.
  2. (obsolete) The holder of the Greek or Roman position of episcopus, supervisor over the public dole of grain, etc.
    • 1808, The Monthly Magazine and British Register, 26 109:
      They gave away corn, not cash; and Cicero was made bishop, or overseer, of this public victualling.
  3. (obsolete) Any watchman, inspector, or overlooker.
    • a. 1627 (date written), Lancelot Andrewes, “Seven Sermons upon the Temptation of Christ in the Wilderness. Sermon IV.”, in J[ohn] P[osthumous] W[ilson], editor, Ninety-six Sermons [], volume V, Oxford, Oxfordshire: John Henry Parker, published 1843, →OCLC, page 516:
      There is no place we see privileged from temptations, no desert so solitary but the devil will seek it out; no pinnacle so high but the devil is a bishop over it, to visit and overlook it.
  4. A chief of the Festival of Fools or St. Nicholas Day.
  5. (chess) The chess piece denoted or which moves along diagonal lines and developed from the shatranj alfil ("elephant") and was originally known as the aufil or archer in English.
    • 1562, Rowbotham in Archaeologia, XXIV. 203
      The Bishoppes some name Alphins, some fooles, and some name them Princes; other some call them Archers.
    • 1656, Gioachino Greco, “The royall game of chesse-play, being the study of Biochimo”, in Francis Beale, transl., (Please provide the book title or journal name):
      A Bishop or Archer, who is commonly figured with his head cloven.
  6. Any of various African birds of the genus Euplectes; a kind of weaverbird closely related to the widowbirds.
  7. (dialectal) A ladybug or ladybird, beetles of the family Coccinellidae.
    • 1875, William Douglas Parish, A Dictionary of the Sussex Dialect:
      Bishop, Bishop-Barnabee,
      Tell me when my wedding shall be;
      If it be to-morrow day,
      Ope your wings and fly away.
  8. A flowering plant of the genus Bifora.
  9. A sweet drink made from wine, usually with oranges, lemons, and sugar; mulled and spiced port.
    • ante 1745, Jonathan Swift, Women who cry Apples in Works (1746), VIII. 192
      Well roasted, with Sugar and Wine in a Cup,
      They'll make a sweet Bishop.
    • 1791, J. Boswell, Life of Johnson, anno 1752 I. 135
      A bowl of that liquor called Bishop, which Johnson had always liked.
    • 1801, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Poems, II. 169:
      Spicy bishop, drink divine.
  10. (US, archaic) A bustle.
    • c. 1860, John Saxe, Progress:
      If, by her bishop, or her 'grace' alone,
      A genuine lady, or a church, is known.
  11. (UK, dialectal, archaic) A children's smock or pinafore.
Usage notes[edit]

Generally speaking, Christian churches observe their highest positions—popes, patriarchs, archbishops, etc.—as specially-empowered bishops; thus the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church is the Bishop of Rome, while the Pope of the Coptic Church is nominally bishop of Alexandria though resident in Cairo. In several denominations, the charism of a laying on of hands is believed to introduce new bishops to an unbroken apostolic succession initiated by the Holy Spirit (also called the Holy Ghost) at Pentecost described in the 2nd chapter of the Book of Acts.

Traditionally, the rank of bishop has been restricted to men and many conservative denominations continue this practice. Even denominations permitting the marriage of priests (such as Eastern Orthodoxy) typically require complete celibacy from those promoted to bishophood: owing to traditional aversions to divorce, this usually restricts the rank to single men and widowers. Catholic bishops are also priests; Eastern Orthodox bishops are usually (but not always) monks.

Derived terms[edit]
  • (church official, supervisor of priests and congregations; included in place names):
  • (African weaverbirds):
other terms with "bishop". Unsorted

Related terms[edit]
See also[edit]
Chess pieces in English · chess pieces, chessmen (see also: chess) (layout · text)
♚ ♛ ♜ ♝ ♞ ♟
king queen rook, castle bishop knight pawn


bishop (third-person singular simple present bishops, present participle bishoping or bishopping, simple past and past participle bishoped or bishopped)

  1. (Christianity) To act as a bishop, to perform the duties of a bishop, especially to confirm another's membership in the church.
    • c. 1000, Thorpe's Laws, II. 348 (Bosw.)
      Se bisceop biþ gesett... to bisceopgenne cild.
    • c. 1315, Shoreham, section 5:
      Wanne the bisschop, bisschopeth the
      Tokene of marke he set on the.
    • 1622, W. Yonge, Diary, published 1848, section 50:
      The Marquis of Buckingham and his wife were both bishopped, or confirmed by the Bishop of London.
    • 1655, T. Fuller, Church-hist. Brit., ix. 81:
      Harding and Saunders Bishop it in England.
    • 1971, Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, Folio Society, published 2012, page 35:
      Here too physical effects were vulgarly attributed to the ceremony… as evidenced by the case of the old Norfolk woman who claimed to have been ‘bishopped’ seven times, because she found it helped her rheumatism.
    1. (by extension, jocularly, obsolete) To confirm (in its other senses).
      • 1596, W. Warner, Albions Eng., x. liv. 243:
        Why sent they it by Felton to be bishoped at Paules?
      • 1700, Boccaccio, “Cymon & Iphigenia”, in John Dryden, transl., Fables, section 550:
        He... chose to bear The Name of Fool confirm'd, and Bishop'd by the Fair.
  2. (Christianity) To make a bishop.
    • 1549, H. Latimer, 2nd Serm. before Kynges Maiestie, 5th Serm. sig. Pviv
      Thys hathe bene often tymes... sene in preachers before they were byshoppyd or benificed.
    • 1861 November 23, Sat. Rev., 537
      There may be other... matters to occupy the thoughts of one about to be bishopped.
  3. (Christianity, rare) To provide with bishops.
    • 1865 December 6, Daily Telegraph, 5/3
      Italy would be well bishoped if her episcopacy... did not exceed fifty-nine.
  4. (UK, dialectal) To permit food (especially milk) to burn while cooking (from bishops' role in the inquisition or as mentioned in the quotation below, of horses).
    • ante 1536, Tyndale, Works, 166 (T.)
      If the porage be burned to, or the meate ouer rosted, we say the bishop hath put his foote in the potte or the bishop hath played the cooke, because the bishops burn who they lust and whosoever displeaseth them.
    • 1641, John Milton, Animadversions, section 9:
      It will be as bad as the Bishops foot in the broth.
    • 1738, Compl. Coll. Genteel Conversat., Jonathan Swift, section 10:
      The Cream is burnt to.
      Betty. Why, Madam, the Bishop has set his Foot in it.
    • 1863, E. C. Gaskell, Sylvia's Lovers, I. 64:
      She canna stomach it if it's bishopped e'er so little.
    • 1875, Lanc. Gloss., section 40:
      Th' milk's bishopped again!
  5. (by extension, of equestrianism) To make a horse seem younger, particularly by manipulation of its teeth.
    • 1727, R. Bradley, Family Dict. at "Horse"
      This way of making a Horse look young is... called Bishoping.
    • 1788, A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 2nd edition, Francis Grose:
      Bishopped, or To bishop. A term among horſe dealers, for burning the mark into a horſe's tooth, after he has loſt it by age... It is a common ſaying of milk that is burnt to, that the biſhop has fet his foot in it. Formerly, when a biſhop paſſed through a village, all the inhabitants ran out of their houſes to ſolicit his bleſſing, even leaving their milk, &c. on the fire, to take its chance; which, when burnt to, was ſaid to be biſhopped.
    • 1840, E. E. Napier, Scenes & Sports Foreign Lands, I. v. 138:
      I found his teeth had been filed down and bishoped with the greatest neatness and perfection.
Derived terms[edit]

Etymology 2[edit]

Eponymous, from the surname Bishop.


bishop (third-person singular simple present bishops, present participle bishoping or bishopping, simple past and past participle bishoped or bishopped)

  1. (UK, colloquial, obsolete) To murder by drowning.
    • 1840, R.H. Barham, Some Account of a New Play in Ingoldsby Legends 1st series, 308
      I Burked the papa, now I'll Bishop the son.
    • 1870, Walter Thornbury, Old Stories Re-told:
      There were no more Burking murders until 1831, when two men, named Bishop and Williams, drowned a poor [14-year-old] Italian boy in Bethnal Green, and sold his body to the surgeons.
    • 2002, Helen Smith, Grave-Robbers, Cut-throats, and Poisoners of London, section 66:
      John Bishop and another grave-robber called Thomas Williams had drowned the boy, a woman and another boy in a well in John Bishop's garden in Bethnal Green... Bishop and Williams were hanged outside Newgate Prison in December 1831 in front of an angry crowd of 30,000.

See also[edit]


  • Oxford English Dictionary, 1st ed. "bishop, n.", "bishop, v.1", and "bishop, v.2". Oxford University Press (Oxford), 1887.
  • Webster's New International Dictionary. "Bishop". 1913.