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Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English couth (familiar, known; evident, true; famous, respected, well-known; genteel, having good manners), from Old English cūþ (familiar, intimate, known, usual; certain, plain, manifest; famous, noted, well-known; excellent; friendly; related), past participle of cunnan (to be familiar with, know; can, to be able, know how),[1][2] from Proto-Germanic *kunnaną (to be familiar with, know, recognize; to be able, know how) (compare *kunþaz (known)), ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *ǵneh₃- (to know). The word is cognate with Dutch kond (known), Saterland Frisian cut (known), Gothic 𐌺𐌿𐌽𐌸𐍃 (kunþs, known), Icelandic kuður, kunnur (known), Latin gnosco (to know), Old High German kund, chund, chunt, Middle High German kunt (modern German kund (known)), Old Saxon kūth, cûth, cuð (known; famous, renowned), Scots couth (familiar, known);[1] and is a doublet of could.


couth (comparative more couth, superlative most couth)

  1. (obsolete) Familiar, known; well-known, renowned.
    Antonym: (obsolete) uncouth
  2. (Scotland) Variant of couthie.
    1. Agreeable, friendly, pleasant.
    2. Comfortable; cosy, snug.
      • 2012, La’Vez Robinson Sr., “Deutschland”, in On My Own: Putting the Past behind Me, [Bloomington, Ind.]: Xlibris, →ISBN, page 203:
        Squad leaders were responsible for doing periodic checks to make sure soldiers were living a couth lifestyle, as Joes would compete regularly to see whose room was nicer.

Etymology 2[edit]

Back-formation from uncouth.


couth (comparative more couth, superlative most couth)

  1. Marked by or possessing a high degree of sophistication; cultured, refined.
    Antonym: uncouth
    • 1943, Henry Sturmey, H. Walter Staner, The Autocar: A Journal Published in the Interests of the Mechanically Propelled Road Carriage, volume 88, London: Iliffe, Sons & Sturney, →OCLC, page 632, column 3:
      So Dennis May thrilled me in a recent issue when he described Raymond Mays' 1939 E.R.A. racer as a "couth" little Merc-like model.
    • 1991, John Percival, editor, Dance and Dancers, London: Dance & Dancers Ltd., →ISSN, →OCLC, page 37:
      Yet the dancers are beautiful, their cool movement has a couth simplicity, and there are moments when a gesture of almost absolute beauty stands transfixed in some transom of sublime comprehension.
    • 2010 February 7, “Sir John Dankworth [obituary]”, in Tony Gallagher, editor, The Daily Telegraph[1], London: Telegraph Media Group, →ISSN, →OCLC, archived from the original on 24 January 2019:
      [John] Dankworth's care over the shaping and presentation of his music led occasionally to complaints that it was clever, lightweight stuff, lacking the rough passion which many regarded as the mark of authentic jazz, a view summed up by the critic Kitty Grime in the much-quoted phrase "couth, kempt and shevelled".


couth (usually uncountable, plural couths)

  1. Social grace, refinement, sophistication; etiquette, manners.
    That man has no couth.
    • 1995, Ben[jamin] J[oseph] Wattenberg, “Those Darn Cultural Issues”, in Values Matter Most: How Democrats or Republicans or a Third Party Can Win and Renew the American Way of Life, Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, →ISBN, part 2 (What It’s Not), page 107:
      There is an aspect of the cultural conservative argument that sometimes drifts dangerously close to tha view, elitist to the core, as elitist as the New Class, as elitist as limousine liberalism: The public ain't got no couth. You can hear those old-fashioned elitist wheels spinning: Maybe we need a few government regulations to deal with the couth shortage.
    • 2004, W[illiam] Bruce Cameron, “How to Increase a Man’s Couth”, in How to Remodel a Man: Tips and Techniques on Accomplishing Something You Know Is Impossible but Want to Try Anyway, New York, N.Y.: St. Martin’s Press, →ISBN; republished as How to Remodel a Man: You Know It’s Impossible but You Want to Try Anyway, London: HarperCollins, 2005, →ISBN, page 62:
      My daughters have long and inappropriately been members of the Committee to Reform Dad's Hygiene, taking me to task for my supposed lack of couth.
    • 2005, Heidi Munan, Culture Shock!: Malaysia: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette (Culture Shock!), Portland, Or.: Graphics Art Center Pub. Co., →ISBN, page 86:
      Couth and manners are intensely subjective concepts. Each culture has its own standards of acceptable table manners, for instance.
    • 2006, Mark Powell, Blood Kin: A Novel, Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, →ISBN, page 97:
      You got no couth, Ed. You was raised no-count is what you were. No count and you ain't got a lick of couth.
  2. (rare) A person with social graces; a refined or sophisticated person.
    • [1967, Bernice Fitz-Gibbon, Macy’s, Gimbels, and Me: How to Earn $90,000 a Year in Retail Advertising, New York, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, →OCLC, page 91:
      We transformed the uncouths into couths, the unkempts into kempts, the inerts into erts! We did it all by speaking to teen-agers on their own terms and in their own language.
      Note: Likely to be a nonce use.]
    • 1968 November, “C. R. Terror”, in Richard L. Anderson, editor, The MAC Flyer (USAF Recurring Publication; 62-5), volume XV, number 11, Scott Air Force Base, Ill.: Directorate of Safety, Headquarters Military Airlift Command, →ISSN, →OCLC, page 28, column 1:
      I'm going to hit that "Gulf of Texas" beach with a bundle of couths and suaves because those Texas gals that hang around the big shrimp boats are used to good living.


  1. 1.0 1.1 couth, adj. (and n.1)”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1893.
  2. ^ cǒuth, adj. (& n.)”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007, retrieved 27 November 2018.


Middle English[edit]



  1. couth; familiar, known; well-known, renowned
    • c. 1382 (date written)​, Geffray Chaucer [i.e., Geoffrey Chaucer], “Boetius de consolatione Philosophie. The Fyrst Boke.”, in [William Thynne], editor, The Workes of Geffray Chaucer Newlye Printed, [], [London: [] Richard Grafton for] Iohn Reynes [], published 1542, →OCLC, folio ccxxxvi, recto, column 1:
      And of the felonyes and fraudes of thyne accuſours, it ſemeth the to haue touched it forſoth ryghtfully & ſhortly al myghten tho ſame thynges better & more plentuouſly been couth in the mouthe of the people that knoweth al this.
      And of the felonies and frauds of your accusers, it seems that you have indeed rightfully touched upon it briefly, as these same things might have been better and more fully familiar in the mouth of the people that know all this [i.e., the people's voice may have said these things better and more fully].