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From Middle English byworde (proverb), from Old English bīword, bīwyrde (proverb, household word", also "adverb), from bī- (by-) + word (word); probably a translation of Latin proverbium. Compare also Old High German pīwurti (proverb), Old English bīspel (proverb, example), bīcwide (byword, proverb, tale, fable). More at bispel.



byword (plural bywords)

  1. A proverb or proverbial expression, common saying; a frequently used word or phrase.
  2. A characteristic word or expression; a word or phrase associated with a person or group.
  3. Someone or something that stands (metonymically) for something else, by having some of that something's characteristic traits.
  4. An object of notoriety or contempt, scorn or derision.
    • 1890, Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, chapter XII:
      "I know you and Harry are inseparable. Surely for that reason, if for none other, you should not have made his sister's name a by-word."
  5. A nickname or epithet.