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Noun from Middle English chyrne, cherne, kyrne ( > Scots kirn), from Old English ċyrn, ċyrin, ċirin (churn), from Proto-Germanic *kirnijǭ (churn); verb from Middle English chyrnen from Old English ċernan, from Proto-Germanic *kirnijaną (to churn, stir), of unknown origin. Cognate with West Frisian tsjerne, Dutch karn, Walloon serene, German Karn, Kirne, Norwegian Bokmål kjerne, Danish kærne, Swedish kärna, Icelandic kirna.



churn (third-person singular simple present churns, present participle churning, simple past and past participle churned)

  1. (transitive) To agitate rapidly and repetitively, or to stir with a rowing or rocking motion; generally applies to liquids, notably cream.
    Now the cream is churned to make butter.
    no-churn ice cream
    • 1717, Joseph Addison, Metamorphoses:
      Churned in his teeth, the foamy venom rose.
  2. (transitive, figuratively) To produce excessive and sometimes undesirable or unproductive activity or motion.
    • 2012, John Branch, “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek”, in New York Times[1]:
      The slope of the terrain, shaped like a funnel, squeezed the growing swell of churning snow into a steep, twisting gorge.
  3. (intransitive) To move rapidly and repetitively with a rocking motion; to tumble, mix or shake.
    I was so nervous that my stomach was churning.
  4. (of a customer) To stop using a company's product or service.
  5. (informal, travel, aviation) To repeatedly cancel and rebook a reservation in order to refresh ticket time limits or other fare rule restrictions.
  6. (US, informal, finance, travel) To continually sign up for new credit cards in order to earn signup bonuses, airline miles, and other benefits.
  7. (finance) To carry out wash sales in order to make the market appear more active than it really is.

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churn (countable and uncountable, plural churns)

  1. A vessel used for churning, especially for producing butter.
    a butter churn
  2. A milk churn (container for the transportation of milk).
    • 1951 October, “The Why and the Wherefore: Milk Platform at Beccles”, in Railway Magazine, page 717:
      As the ends of the up and down platforms are not opposite each other, it is not possible to provide the ordinary type of barrow crossing, and the full churns were too heavy to be man-handled up and down the stairs of the footbridge.
    • 1959 March, R. C. Riley, “Home with the milk”, in Trains Illustrated, page 155:
      In the old days, milk trains consisted entirely of vans loaded with ten-gallon churns. When filled, these churns weigh 130 lb. each and their manipulation is an art. [...] Like the tank wagons, the churns are dairy property, but farmers often have other ideas, and find their own uses for them—it has not been unknown for dairy inspectors to find missing churns tucked away in an unsuspected corner of a farmhouse, filled to the brim with banknotes!
  3. Customer attrition; the phenomenon or rate of customers leaving a company.
  4. (telecommunications) The time when a consumer switches his/her service provider.
  5. (telecommunications) The mass of people who are ready to switch carriers.
  6. Cyclic activity that achieves nothing.
    • 2007, Hari Kunzru, My Revolutions, page 102:
      I wished my brain would shut up and knew that soon I'd have to start tidying, but first I needed to rest, so I tried to quell the pointless churn behind my eyes and kept on trying (in a minute) until Vicky came back home.
    • 2023 April 18, Phil McNulty, “Chelsea Champions League exit: Where do 'disjointed, broken' Blues go from here?”, in BBC Sport[2]:
      Getting the right manager has just been made more difficult by not having Champions League to offer. There will also be a huge churn of players after the lavish, unrewarding outlay this season.
  7. (historical) The last grain cut at harvest; kern.

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