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See also: Bough



Alternative forms



PIE word
A bough (sense 1) of a pencil pine (Athrotaxis cupressoides) in Mount Field National Park, Tasmania, Australia.

From Middle English bough (branch of a bush or tree, especially a main branch; limb of an animal or person; something resembling a branch (such as a plant root or branch of a nerve); (figuratively) Christian cross; descendant, offspring) [and other forms],[1] from Old English bōg, bōh (tree bough or branch; arm; shoulder), from Proto-West Germanic *bōgu, from Proto-Germanic *bōguz (shoulder; upper arm), from Proto-Indo-European *bʰeh₂ǵʰús (arm).[2]

Cognate with Saterland Frisian Bouch, West Frisian boech, Dutch boeg, German Low German Boog, German Bug, Danish bov, Icelandic bógur, and distantly with Ancient Greek πῆχυς (pêkhus, forearm, cubit, etc.). Doublet of bow ("front of a ship, prow").





bough (plural boughs)

  1. A tree-branch, usually a primary one directly attached to the trunk.
    When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall. (Rock-a-bye Baby)
    • 1610–1611 (date written), William Shakespeare, “The Tempest”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act V, scene i], page 17, column 1:
      Where the Bee ſucks, there ſuck I, / In a Cowſlips bell, I lie, / There I cowch when Owles doe crie, / On the Batts backe I doe flie / after Sommer merrily. / Merrily, merrily, ſhall I liue now / Vnder the bloſſom that hangs on the Bow.
    • 1611, The Holy Bible, [] (King James Version), London: [] Robert Barker, [], →OCLC, Deuteronomy 24:20:
      When thou beateſt thine oliue tree thou shalt not goe ouer the boughes againe: it shall be for the ſtranger, for the fatherleſſe, and for the widow.
    • 1653, Iz[aak] Wa[lton], chapter VII, in The Compleat Angler or The Contemplative Man’s Recreation. Being a Discourse of Fish and Fishing, [], London: [] T. Maxey for Rich[ard] Marriot, [], →OCLC; reprinted as The Compleat Angler (Homo Ludens; 6), Nieuwkoop, South Holland, Netherlands: Miland Publishers, 1969, →ISBN, page 154:
      [Y]ou are to faſten that line to any bow neer to a hole where a Pike is, or is likely to lye, or to have a haunt, []
    • 1719 May 6 (Gregorian calendar), [Daniel Defoe], The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, [], London: [] W[illiam] Taylor [], →OCLC, page 139:
      When the Corn was ſow'd, I had no Harrow, but was forced to go over it my ſelf, and drag a great heavy Bough of a Tree over it, to Scratch it, as it may be call'd, rather than Rake or harrow it.
    • 1819 May, John Keats, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, in Lamia, Isabella, the Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems, London: [] [Thomas Davison] for Taylor and Hessey, [], published 1820, →OCLC, stanza 3, page 114:
      Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed / Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu; []
    • 1897 December (indicated as 1898), Winston Churchill, chapter VIII, in The Celebrity: An Episode, New York, N.Y.: The Macmillan Company; London: Macmillan & Co., Ltd., →OCLC, page 121:
      Now we plunged into a deep shade with the boughs lacing each other overhead, and crossed dainty, rustic bridges over the cold trout-streams, the boards giving back the clatter of our horses' feet: or anon we shot into a clearing, with a colored glimpse of the lake and its curving shore far below us.
    • 1913, W[illiam] P[lane] Pycraft, “Reptilian Liveries”, in The Infancy of Animals, New York, N.Y.: Henry Holt and Company, →OCLC, pages 173–174:
      [T]he creature [a Wagler's viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri)] is arboreal and feeds on birds. This extremely agile prey it is able to capture with ease, because it has developed a prehensile tail whereby it is able to take a secure grip of a bough, leaving the rest of the body free to be instantly uncoiled as the fatal dart on the victim is made. The green colour of the young snake is a protective garment, enabling it to lie concealed among the smaller green boughs. Later, with increased bulk, older and therefore black boughs have to bear the weight of the body, against which a green body would be somewhat conspicuous, or would at any rate excite suspicion.
    • 2013, J[ohn] M[axwell] Coetzee, chapter 18, in The Childhood of Jesus, Melbourne, Vic.: The Text Publishing Company, →ISBN, page 172:
      A pair of birds settle on the bough above them, murmuring together, ready to roost.
    • 2018, Katie Ruggle, Through the Fire:
      Desperate to stop before hurling herself off the edge of the cliff, she grabbed for a nearby tree branch, but the spindly bough snapped off in her hands.
  2. (obsolete, figuratively, poetic) A gallows.
    • 1584, A Breefe Discourse, Declaring and Approuing the Necessarie and Inuiolable Maintenance of the Laudable Customes of London: [], London: [] Henrie Midleton for Rafe Newberie, →OCLC, pages 26–27:
      It was vſed of auncient time in Gauelkind land, & hath receiued the allowance and iudgement of a good and lawfull cuſtome, that if the huſband be attainted and executed for a felonie by him committed, yet ſhall his wife for the ſolace of her loſſe and deſolation haue her dowrie of his land, and alſo the heire ſhall inherite the ſame according to that olde ſaying: The father to the bough, & the ſonne to the plough, []
    • 1870, William Morris, “December: The Fostering of Aslaug”, in The Earthly Paradise: A Poem, part IV, London: F[rederick] S[tartridge] Ellis, [], →OCLC, page 77:
      "No need," he said, "long words to make, / And little heed we thy lies now, / But if she doom thee to the bough.["]

Derived terms





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

Further reading