From Middle English byworde (“proverb”), from Old English bīword, bīwyrde (“proverb, household word", also "adverb”), from Proto-Germanic *bīwurdiją, equivalent to by- + word. Compare Latin proverbium, which byword may possibly be a translation of. Cognate with Old High German pīwurti (“proverb”). Compare also Old English bīspel (“proverb, example”), bīcwide (“byword, proverb, tale, fable”), Dutch bijwoord (“adverb”).
byword (plural bywords)
- A proverb or proverbial expression, common saying; a frequently used word or phrase.
- A characteristic word or expression; a word or phrase associated with a person or group.
- Someone or something that stands as an example (i.e. metonymically) for something else, by having some of that something's characteristic traits.
- An object of notoriety or contempt, scorn or derision.
1890, Oscar Wilde, chapter XII, in The Picture of Dorian Gray:
- "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."
- A nickname or epithet.
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