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See also: bitter-sweet


bittersweet (adj.), the orange-red colour of Solanum dulcamara (bittersweet n. sense 1)

Alternative forms[edit]


From Middle English bitterswete, biterswete, equivalent to bitter +‎ sweet. Cognate with Saterland Frisian bitterswäit (bittersweet), West Frisian bittersoet (bittersweet), Dutch bitterzoet (bittersweet), German bittersüß (bittersweet), Danish bittersød (bittersweet), Swedish bittersöt (bittersweet).


  • (US) IPA(key): /ˈbɪtɚˌswit/, [ˈbɪɾɚˌswiʔt̚], /ˌbɪtɚˈswit/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -iːt


bittersweet (comparative more bittersweet, superlative most bittersweet)

  1. Both bitter and sweet.
    bittersweet chocolate
  2. (figurative) Expressing contrasting emotions of pain and pleasure.
    The break-up was very bittersweet; they both hurt to end it, but were glad it was over.
    • 1749, Henry Fielding, chapter III, in The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, volumes (please specify |volume=I to VI), London: A[ndrew] Millar, [], →OCLC:
      [] sensations of this kind, however delicious, are, at their first recognition, of a very tumultuous nature, and have very little of the opiate in them. They were, moreover, in the present case, embittered with certain circumstances, which being mixed with sweeter ingredients, tended altogether to compose a draught that might be termed bitter-sweet []
    • 1863, Louisa M[ay] Alcott, Pauline's Passion and Punishment[1]:
      Her eyes still shone upon the ground, and still she prolonged the bittersweet delight at seeing this humiliation of both soul and body by asking the one question whose reply would complete her sad success.
    • 1898, Lewis Carroll, “Three Sunsets”, in Three Sunsets and Other Poems[2]:
      He sat beside the busy street,
      There, where he last had seen her face:
      And thronging memories, bitter-sweet,
      Seemed yet to haunt the ancient place:
    • 2020 January 16, Diana Hubbell, “Bittersweet Berlin goodbye as Clärchens Ballhaus faces uncertain future”, in The Guardian[3], →ISSN:
      While the final festivities were bittersweet, David and Lisa insisted on a party rather than a funeral.
    • 2023 April 21, John Poulos, “Dominion’s C.E.O.: Why We Settled the Lawsuit Against Fox News”, in The New York Times[4], →ISSN:
      The public has complicated feelings about our decision to end this trial before it ever began, and that’s OK. It’s bittersweet for us, too.
  3. (color) Of bittersweet color.

Derived terms[edit]



Glycymeris undata (Atlantic bittersweet clam, sense 5)

bittersweet (plural bittersweets)

  1. Bittersweet nightshade, Solanum dulcamara.
    • 1597, John Gerarde [i.e., John Gerard], “Of Bitter Sweete, or Woode Nightshade”, in The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes. [], London: [] Edm[und] Bollifant, for Bonham and Iohn Norton, →OCLC, book II, pages 278–279:
      Bitter ſweete bringeth foorth wooddie ſtalks as doth the Vine, parted into many ſlender creeping braunches, by which it climeth and taketh holde of hedges and ſhrubbes next vnto it. [] Bitter ſweet doth grow in moiſt places about ditches, riuers, and hedges, almoſt euery where.
  2. Bittersweetness.
    • 1941, Emily Carr, chapter 18, in Klee Wyck[5]:
      I had once before visited these three villages, Skedans, Tanoo and Cumshewa. The bitter-sweet of their overwhelming loneliness created a longing to return to them.
  3. (US) A vine, of the genus Celastrus, having small orange fruit that open to reveal red seeds.
    • 1935, Bess Streeter Aldrich, chapter 43, in Spring Came on Forever[6]:
      Over by the creek-bed scarlet-flamed sumac shouldered the silver-green of the willows, and orange-colored bittersweet crept through the tangle of wild plums.
  4. A variety of apple with a bittersweet taste.
    • 1886 May – 1887 April, Thomas Hardy, chapter VI, in The Woodlanders [], volume I, London, New York, N.Y.: Macmillan and Co., published 1887, →OCLC, page 99:
      "They had a good crop of bitter-sweets, they couldn’t grind them all"—nodding towards an orchard where some heaps of apples had been left lying ever since the ingathering.
  5. Any variety of clam in the family Glycymerididae
  6. (color) A pinkish-orange color. Any color in between scarlet and orange.

Derived terms[edit]