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From Italian corvetta, diminutive of corva, an early form of curva (curve), from Latin curva, feminine of curvus (bent, curved).



curvet (third-person singular simple present curvets, present participle curveting or curvetting, simple past and past participle curveted or curvetted)

  1. (intransitive, of a horse or, by extension, another animal) To leap about, frolic.
    • 1593, William Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis, lines 277-282,[1]
      Sometime he trots, as if he told the steps, / With gentle majesty and modest pride; / Anon he rears upright, curvets and leaps, / As who should say, 'Lo! thus my strength is tried; / And this I do to captivate the eye / Of the fair breeder that is standing by.'
    • 1886, Theodore Dwight Weld, "Shakespeare in the Class-Room," in Shakespeariana, Vol. III, p. 441
      The boy turns into a dog and bow-wows—a cock, he flaps his wings and crows—a cow, he fetches a long drawn moo—a horse broke loose, he curvets, prances and kicks fearfully among his nursery blocks—a big bull, he waxes dangerous as he bellows and paws the carpet—a locomotive, he blows his steam whistle and dashes round the nursery with puffs and yells spasmodic, or taming down, sticks a feather in his cap and struts a soldier.
    • 1893, Lewis Carroll, Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, Chapter 4,[2]
      [] the dog—a magnificent Newfoundland—that had come galloping down the field to meet us, began curveting round us, in gambols full of graceful beauty, and welcoming us with short joyful barks.
    • 1920, D. H. Lawrence, Women in Love, Penguin, 1995, Chapter I, p. 18,
      Gaily the grey horses curvetted to their destination at the church-gate, a laughter in the whole movement.
    • 1963, Thomas Pynchon, V.
      Firelily, under him, seemed sexually aroused, she curveted and frolicked so about the line of march, covering five miles to the prisoners’ one.
  2. (transitive) To cause to leap about, dart or jump.
    • 1766, Elizabeth Griffith, A Series of Genuine Letters between Henry and Frances, London: W. Johnston, Volume III, Letter 447, pp. 256-257,[3]
      [] I could no more travel the same Path, again and again, than I could have Patience to mount a managed Horse, in the Riding-House, and curvet it in the same Spot, for three Hours together.
    • 1826, Walter Savage Landor, Imaginary Conversations, London: Henry Colburn, Conversation 9, pp. 189-190,[4]
      [] the upright leaden spout, curveting its liquid filament into [the well], is merely a representation of what the gardener himself, if called upon, could do better and more abundantly.
  3. (of a bird) To fly or swim with darting movements.
    • 1934, George Orwell, Burmese Days, Chapter 6,[5]
      [] flights of small, low-flying brown doves chased one another to and fro, and bee-eaters, emerald-green, curvetted like slow swallows.
    • 1942, Wallace Stevens, "Notes toward a Supreme Fiction: It Must Change," in The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1954, p. 397,
      The west wind was the music, the motion, the force / To which the swans curveted, a will to change, / A will to make iris frettings on the blank.
    • 2011, Guy Vanderhaeghe, A Good Man, McClelland & Stewart, Chapter Two,
      Bank swallows are skimming above the stream, snatching insects, curvetting, rocketing up against the dying light.
  4. (figuratively) (of a person) To prance; to caper, frolic.
    • 1943, Lewis Sinclair, Gideon Planish, London: Jonathan Cape, Chapter V, p. 44,
      He curvetted back into the living-room []
    • 1988, Octavio Paz, Sor Juana or, The Traps of Faith, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden, Harvard University Press, Chapter 8, p. 100,
      It is not possible, many critics allege, that Juana Inés could have lived in the whirlwind of the court for five years [] and have emerged unscathed. I have already said that it would be absurd to discount the possibility of some curvetting and amorous play.
  5. (figuratively) (of an object) To jump, skip, shake.
    • 1851, Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, Chapter 63,[6]
      [] you must know that when the second iron is thrown overboard, it thenceforth becomes a dangling, sharp-edged terror, skittishly curvetting about both boat and whale, entangling the lines, or cutting them, and making a prodigious sensation in all directions.
    • 1981, Tanith Lee, Delusion's Master, New York: Daw Books, Prologue, p. 30,
      The earth shook itself like an animal on whose back a predator has lodged. It spasmed, curvetted, tossed and writhed, to throw that malignity from its shoulders.


curvet (plural curvets)

  1. A particular leap in which a horse raises both forelegs at once, equally advanced, and, as the forelegs are falling, raises the hind legs, so that all the legs are in the air at once.
  2. A prank; a frolic.




  1. third-person singular present active subjunctive of curvō