From Wiktionary, the free dictionary
Jump to navigation Jump to search



A brawl depicted in Bauernrauferei beim Kartenspiel (Smallholders Playing Cards, c. 1630–1640) by Adriaen Brouwer[n 1]

Etymology 1[edit]

The verb is derived from Late Middle English braulen, brall, brallen (to clamour, to shout; to quarrel; to boast);[1] further etymology is uncertain, but the word could be related to bray and ultimately imitative.[2] It may be cognate with Danish bralle (to chatter, jabber), Dutch brallen (to boast), Low German brallen (to brag), Middle High German prālen (to boast, flaunt) (modern German prahlen (to boast, flaunt, vaunt)).[3]

The noun is derived from Middle English brall, bralle, braul, braule, brawle (disturbance, squabble; brawl), from the verb braulen: see above.[4]


brawl (plural brawls)

  1. A disorderly argument or fight, usually with a large number of people involved.
    Synonyms: row, scuffle, squabble; see also Thesaurus:dispute, Thesaurus:fight
    • c. 1591–1595 (date written), [William Shakespeare], [] Romeo and Juliet. [] (First Quarto), London: [] Iohn Danter, published 1597, →OCLC, [Act I, scene i]:
      Three Ciuell brawles bred of an airie word, / By the old Capulet and Mountague, / Haue thrice diſturbd the quiet of our ſtreets.
    • 1874 December 18, John M. Shirley, state reporter, “State v. Rollins”, in Reports of Cases in the Superior Court of Judicature of New Hampshire, volume LV, Concord, N.H.: Published by Josiah B. Sanborn, published 1876, →OCLC, page 102:
      The complaint charged that the defendants, on, etc., at, etc., "in a certain public place, to wit, in a certain school-house in which a singing-school was then and there being held, did make a great brawl and tumult, and stamped their feet on the floor, hissed, used loud and saucy language, and were guilty of rude, indecent, and disorderly conduct."
    • 1940 June 21, “Further Statement of Thad H. Brown, Commissioner, Federal Communications Commission, Washington, D.C.”, in Nomination of Thad H. Brown: Hearings before the Committee on Interstate Commerce, United States Senate, Seventy-sixth Congress, Third Session on the Nomination of Thad H. Brown on Reappointment as Federal Communications Commissioner [], Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, →OCLC, page 81:
      It has been reported that an entertainment took place not long ago in a certain "hot spot" in New York City, and it has been charged that members of the Federal Communications Commission were present; that they got into a drunken brawl; and in the brawl some woman was hurt, her arm twisted.
    • 2017 January 26, Christopher D. Shea, “‘T2 Trainspotting’: The early reviews”, in The New York Times[1], New York, N.Y.: The New York Times Company, →ISSN, →OCLC, archived from the original on 21 February 2018:
      Robert Carlyle appears as Begbie, who starts brawls with almost anyone who crosses his path; [...]
Derived terms[edit]


brawl (third-person singular simple present brawls, present participle brawling, simple past and past participle brawled)

  1. (intransitive) To engage in a brawl; to fight or quarrel.
    Synonyms: squabble, wrangle
    • c. 1593 (date written), [William Shakespeare], The Tragedy of King Richard the Third. [] (First Quarto), London: [] Valentine Sims [and Peter Short] for Andrew Wise, [], published 1597, →OCLC, [Act I, scene iii]:
      I doe the wrong, and firſt began to braule / The ſecret miſchiefes that I ſet abroach, / I lay vnto the grieuous charge of others: [...]
      I do the wrong, and am the first to begin to quarrel. / The secret mischiefs that I set afoot, / I blame on others: [...]
    • 1676, Henry Cornelius Agrippa [i.e., Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim], “Of Logick”, in The Vanity of Arts and Sciences, London: Printed by J. C. for Samuel Speed, [], →OCLC, page 43:
      Theſe are the deep and profound Myſteries of Artificial Logick, invented with ſo much care by theſe fallacious Doctors, [...] Theſe are the Nets, and theſe are the Hounds with which they hunt the Truth of all things, whether natural, as in Phyſicks; or ſupernatural, as in Metaphyſicks: but according to the Proverb of Clodius and Varro, can never overtake, by reaſon of their bawling and brawling one with another.
    • 1716, Humphrey Prideaux, “Book VI”, in The Old and New Testament Connected, in the History of the Jews and Neighbouring Nations, from the Declension of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, to the Time of Christ, part I, volume II, Edinburgh: Printed by D. Schaw & Co., [], published 1799, →OCLC, page 417:
      As long as they [Xanthippe and Myrto, Socrates' wives] diſagreed, they were continually ſcolding, brawling, or fighting, with each other; and whenever they agreed, they both joined in brawling [verb sense 2] at him, and often fell on him with their fiſts as well as with their tongues, and beat him ſoundly.
    • 1763, John Henderson, “Sect. XVI. Soliloquy on the Unerring Motions of the Spirit.”, in James Thomson, editor, Divine Meditations and Contemplations, in Prose and Verse, on Some of the Most Important and Interesting Doctrines of Christianity. [], Glasgow: Printed for James Thomson, [], and sold by him [], and by J. Trail, W. Gray, and J. Wood, []; and by R. Smith, jun. [], →OCLC, page 305:
      [U]pon every trifle, the vitiated faculties of thy ſoul are inflamed with immoderate and moſt irregular paſſion, ſo that thou often brawleſt, and art made thereby to roar like a wild bull caught in a thicket: [...]
    • 1842 December – 1844 July, Charles Dickens, chapter XVI, in The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, London: Chapman and Hall, [], published 1844, →OCLC, page 207:
      One who rides at all hazards of limb and life in the chase of a fox, will prefer to ride recklessly at most times. So it was with these gentlemen. He was the greatest patriot, in their eyes, who brawled the loudest, and who cared the least for decency.
    • 1998 July 2, J. K. Rowling [pseudonym; Joanne Rowling], Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Harry Potter; 2), London: Bloomsbury Publishing, →ISBN, page 63:
      Brilly and Flintlock brawled in potions class, then they brawled on the soccer field, and finally they brawled sitting in the principal's office.
  2. (intransitive) To create a disturbance; to complain loudly.
  3. (intransitive) Especially of a rapid stream running over stones: to make a loud, confused noise.
    • c. 1598–1600 (date written), William Shakespeare, “As You Like It”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act II, scene i], page 190, column 1:
      To day my Lord of Amiens, and my ſelfe, / Did ſteale behinde him as he lay along / Vnder an oake, whoſe anticke roote peepes out / Vpon the brooke that brawles along this wood, [...]
    • 1793, W[illiam] Wordsworth, An Evening Walk. An Epistle; in Verse. [], London: Printed for J[oseph] Johnson, [], →OCLC; republished as “The Female Beggar. From Wordsworth’s Evening Walk.”, in The Edinburgh Magazine, or Literary Miscellany, volume III (New Series), Edinburgh: Printed for James Symington [] and sold in London by H. Murray [], and W. Boag [], May 1794, →OCLC, page 387, column 1:
      ―When low-hung clouds each ſtar of ſummer hide, / And fireleſs are the valleys far and wide, / Where the brook brawls along the painful road, / Dark with bat haunted aſhes ſtretching broad, [...]
    • 1814, J. H. Craig [pseudonym; James Hogg], The Hunting of Badlewe: A Dramatic Tale, London: H[enry] Colburn; Edinburgh: G. Goldie, →OCLC, page 1; quoted in “The Hunting of Badlewe, a Dramatic Tale. 8vo. Edin. 1814. [From the Scottish Review.]”, in The Analectic Magazine, Containing Selections from Foreign Reviews and Magazines, together with Original Miscellaneous Compositions, volume V (New Series), Philadelphia, Pa.: Published and sold by Moses Thomas, [], May 1815, →OCLC, pages 353–354:
      What seek we here / Amid this waste where desolation scowls, / And the red torrent, brawling down the linn, / Sings everlasting discord?
  4. (transitive) To pour abuse on; to scold.
Derived terms[edit]

Etymology 2[edit]

Possibly from French branler (to shake),[5] from Old French brandeler (to shake, wave; to agitate), from brand, branc (blade of a sword), from Vulgar Latin *brandus (firebrand; flaming sword; sword), ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *bʰrenu- (to burn).


brawl (third-person singular simple present brawls, present participle brawling, simple past and past participle brawled)

  1. (intransitive, obsolete) To move to and fro, to quiver, to shake.
    Synonyms: vibrate, waver

Etymology 3[edit]

From French branle (type of dance; an act of shaking, a shake), from branler (to shake), from Old French brandeler (to shake, wave; to agitate);[6] see further at etymology 2.

Alternatively, the word could be derived from brawl ((obsolete) to move to and fro, quiver, shake): see etymology 2.[6]


brawl (plural brawls)

  1. (dance, obsolete) A type of dance move or step.
  2. (dance, music, historical) Alternative form of branle (dance of French origin dating from the 16th century, performed by couples in a circle or a line; the music for this dance)
    • c. 1595–1596 (date written), W. Shakespere [i.e., William Shakespeare], A Pleasant Conceited Comedie Called, Loues Labors Lost. [] (First Quarto), London: [] W[illiam] W[hite] for Cut[h]bert Burby, published 1598, →OCLC; republished as Shakspere’s Loves Labours Lost (Shakspere-Quarto Facsimiles; no. 5), London: W[illiam] Griggs, [], [1880], →OCLC, [Act III, scene i]:
      Boy. Maiſter, will you win your loue with a french braule? / Brag[gart]. How meaneſt thou? brawling in French. / Boy. No my complet Maiſter, but to Iigge off a tune at the tongues ende, canarie to it with your feete, humour it with turning vp your eylids, ſigh a note and ſing a note ſomtime through the throate, if you ſwallowed loue with ſinging loue [...]


  1. ^ From the collection of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden, Germany.


  1. ^ braulen, v.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007, retrieved 3 April 2019.
  2. ^ brawl”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  3. ^ brawl, v.1”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1888.
  4. ^ braul, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007, retrieved 3 April 2019; compare brawl, n.1”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1888.
  5. ^ brawl, v.2”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1888.
  6. 6.0 6.1 †brawl, n.3”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1888.