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From Middle English britel, brutel, brotel (brittle), from Old English *brytel, *bryttol (brittle, fragile, literally prone to or tending to break); equivalent to brit +‎ -le.


  • IPA(key): /ˈbɹɪtl̩/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -ɪtəl


brittle (comparative brittler or more brittle, superlative brittlest or most brittle)

  1. Inflexible; liable to break, snap, or shatter easily under stress, pressure, or impact.
    Cast iron is much more brittle than forged iron.
    A diamond is hard but brittle.
  2. Not physically tough or tenacious; apt to break or crumble when bending.
    Shortbread is my favorite cold pastry, yet being so brittle it crumbles easily, and a lot goes to waste.
  3. (archaeology) Said of rocks and minerals with a conchoidal fracture; capable of being knapped or flaked.
  4. Emotionally fragile, easily offended.
    What a brittle personality! A little misunderstanding and he's an emotional wreck.
  5. (engineering, computing, of a system) Poorly error- or fault-tolerant; having little in the way of redundancy or defense in depth; susceptible to catastrophic failure in the event of a relatively-minor malfunction or deviance.
  6. (informal, proscribed)[1] Diabetes that is characterized by dramatic swings in blood sugar level.

Derived terms[edit]



brittle (usually uncountable, plural brittles)

  1. A confection of caramelized sugar and nuts.
    As a child, my favorite candy was peanut brittle.
  2. (by extension) Anything resembling this confection, such as flapjack, a cereal bar, etc.


Derived terms[edit]



brittle (third-person singular simple present brittles, present participle brittling, simple past and past participle brittled)

  1. (intransitive) To become brittle.
    • 1999, J. Siekmann, Maria T. Pazienza, J. G. Carbonell, Information Extraction: Towards Scalable, Adaptable Systems, page 24:
      The project is based on a similar project, the Class project, which was started by the University of Cornell several years ago under the leadership of Stuart Lynn to preserve brittling old books.
    • 2020, Alys Murray, The Magnolia Sisters:
      Her heart fluttered, then stilled when May snapped the image away and her voice brittled.
  2. (transitive, obsolete) To gut.
    • 1866, Charles Kingsley, chapter 38, in Hereward the Wake, London: Nelson:
      Not being versed in the terms of English venery, he asked Abbot Ulfketyl what brittling of a deer might mean; and being informed that it was that operation on the carcass of a stag which his countrymen called eventrer, and Highland gillies now “gralloching”[.]

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