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Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English bleche (also bleke), from Old English blǣċ, blǣc, variants of blāc (bright, shining, glittering), from Proto-West Germanic *blaik, from Proto-Germanic *blaikaz (pale, shining). More at bleak.


  • enPR: blēch, IPA(key): /bliːt͡ʃ/
    • (US) [blit͡ʃ]
      • (file)
    • (UK) [bliːt͡ʃ]
  • Rhymes: -iːtʃ


bleach (comparative bleacher or more bleach, superlative bleachest or most bleach)

  1. (archaic) Pale; bleak.

Etymology 2[edit]

From Middle English blechen, from Old English blǣċan (to bleach, whiten), from Proto-West Germanic *blaikijan, from Proto-Germanic *blaikijaną, from Proto-Indo-European *bʰel- (to shine).

Cognate with Dutch bleken (to bleach), German bleichen (to bleach), Danish blege, Swedish bleka (to bleach). Related to Old English blāc (pale) (English blake; compare also bleak).


bleach (third-person singular simple present bleaches, present participle bleaching, simple past and past participle bleached)

  1. (transitive) To treat with bleach, especially so as to whiten (fabric, paper, etc.) or lighten (hair).
    • 1538, Thomas Elyot, The Dictionary of Syr Thomas Eliot Knyght[1], London: Thomas Berthelet:
      Candifacio, to make whyte, to bleache, to make to glowe lyke a burnyng cole.
    • 1774, Tobias Smollett, Independence: An Ode[2], London: J. Murray, page 8:
      Immortal liberty, whose look sublime
      Hath bleach’d the Tyrant’s Cheek in every varying Clime.
    • 1830, Andrew Ure, “BLEACHING”, in A Dictionary of Arts, Manufactures, and Mines[3], London: Longman, Orme, Brown, Green, & Longmans, page 128:
      The destruction of the colouring matters attached to the bodies to be bleached is effected either by the action of the air and light, of chlorine, or of sulphurous acid.
  2. (intransitive) To be whitened or lightened (by the sun, for example).
    • c. 1610–1611 (date written), William Shakespeare, “The Winters Tale”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act IV, scene iii]:
      The white sheet bleaching on the hedge,
      With heigh! the sweet birds, O, how they sing!
    • 1871, Louisa M[ay] Alcott, chapter 15, in Little Men: [], Boston, Mass.: Roberts Brothers, →OCLC:
      [] when Mrs. Giddy-gaddy came to take out her clothes, deep green stains appeared on every thing, for she had forgotten the green silk lining of a certain cape, and its color had soaked nicely into the pink and blue gowns, the little chemises, and even the best ruffled petticoat. [] “Lay them on the grass to bleach,” said Daisy, with an air of experience.
    • 1927, Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse[4], London: The Hogarth Press, published 1920, Part 2, p. 198:
      The autumn trees, ravaged as they are, take on the flash of tattered flags kindling in the gloom of cool cathedral caves where gold letters on marble pages describe death in battle and how bones bleach and burn far away in Indian sands.
  3. (intransitive, biology, of corals) To lose color due to stress-induced expulsion of symbiotic unicellular algae.
    Once coral bleaching begins, corals tend to continue to bleach even if the stressor is removed.
  4. (transitive, figurative) To make meaningless; to divest of meaning; to make empty.
    semantically bleached words that have become illocutionary particles
Derived terms[edit]


bleach (countable and uncountable, plural bleaches)

  1. (uncountable) A chemical, such as sodium hypochlorite or hydrogen peroxide, or a preparation of such a chemical, used for disinfecting or whitening.
  2. (countable) A variety of bleach.
Derived terms[edit]

Etymology 3[edit]

From Middle English bleche, from Old English blǣċu, blǣċo (paleness, pallor), from Proto-Germanic *blaikį̄ (paleness). See Etymology 1 above.


bleach (plural bleaches)

  1. An act of bleaching; exposure to the sun.

Etymology 4[edit]

From Middle English bleche, from Old English blǣċe (irritation of the skin, leprosy; psoriasis).


bleach (plural bleaches)

  1. (obsolete) A disease of the skin characterized by hypopigmentation and itching, believed in the 17th century to be a form a leprosy.


Jamaican Creole[edit]


From English bleach (whiten). A reference to the fact that as night turns to day the sky gets lighter, as if it is being bleached.



  1. To stay awake through the night.
    • 2005 September 13, “Welcome to Jamrock” (track 3), in Welcome to Jamrock[5], performed by Damian Marley:
      And that's why ah nuff little youth have up some fat 'matic with the extra magazine inna dem back pocket and a bleach a night time inna some black jacket.
      And that's why a lot of little youths carry large automatic guns with an extra magazine in their back pockets and stay up through the night in black jackets.
    • 2007 January 1, “Ay Ya Ay Ya” (track 14), in Riddim Driven: Shadowz[6], performed by Blak Ryno:
      'Fraid of me, dem 'fraid. Me is a bwoy weh can bleach and wait.
      Afraid of me, they're afraid. I'm a boy who can stay awake through the night and wait.