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Alternative forms[edit]


1590s, from Middle French desbaucher (entice from work or duty), from Old French desbauchier (to lead astray), from des- + bauch (beam), from Frankish *balkō,[1] from Proto-Germanic *balkô, from Proto-Indo-European *bʰelǵ- (beam, plank); latter origin of balk.

Evolution of sense unclear; may be literally “to shave/trim wood to make a beam” or may be “to leave/lure someone from a workshop”, Frankish *balkō perhaps also meaning “workshop”.

Possible corruption by way of Anglicised French term bord (edge, kerb): kerb crawling as a synonym for prostitution. Parallels in modern German: Bordsteinschwalbe (prostitute, literally Kerb-stone-swallow or kerb-bird). English words bawd, bawdiness may be similarly connected.


  • IPA(key): /dɪˈbɔːt͡ʃ/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -ɔːtʃ


debauch (plural debauches)

  1. An individual act of debauchery.
    • 1785, William Cowper, “Book IV. The Winter Evening.”, in The Task, a Poem, [], London: [] J[oseph] Johnson;  [], →OCLC, page 161:
      [E]v'ry twentieth pace / Conducts the unguarded noſe to ſuch a whiff / Of ſtale debauch forth-iſſuing from the ſtyes / That law has licenſed, as makes temp'rance reel.
    • 1828, [Edward Bulwer-Lytton], chapter XX, in Pelham; or, The Adventures of a Gentleman. [], volume II, London: Henry Colburn, [], →OCLC, page 196:
      I rose by candle-light, and consumed, in the intensest application, the hours which every other individual of our party wasted in enervating slumbers, from the hesternal dissipation or debauch.
    • 1884, Arthur Conan Doyle, John Barrington Cowles:
      As I supported him towards his lodgings I could see that he was not only suffering from the effects of a recent debauch, but that a long course of intemperance had affected his nerves and his brain.
    • 1902, Thomas Ebenezer Webb, The Mystery of William Shakespeare: A Summary of Evidence, page 242:
      Greene died of a debauch; and Marlowe, the gracer of tragedians, perished in an ignominious brawl.
    • 1913, Sax Rohmer, chapter 25, in The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu:
      [T]he room probably was one which he actually used for opium debauches.
  2. An orgy.



debauch (third-person singular simple present debauches, present participle debauching, simple past and past participle debauched)

  1. (transitive) To morally corrupt (someone); to seduce.
    • 1727, Daniel Defoe, chapter 9, in The History of the Devil:
      But the Devil had met with too much Success in his first Attempts, not to go on with his general Resolution of debauching the Minds of Men, and bringing them off from God.
  2. (transitive) To debase (something); to lower the value of (something).
    • 1685, Matthew Prior, “A Satyr on the modern Translators”, in H. Bunker Wright, Monroe K. Spears, editors, The Literary Works of Matthew Prior, Second edition, volume I, Oxford: Clarendon Press, published 1971, page 19:
      Those who with nine months toil had spoil’d a Play,
      In hopes of Eating at a full Third day,
      Justly despairing longer to sustain
      A craving Stomach from an empty Brain,
      Have left Stage-Practice, chang’d their old Vocations,
      Atoning for bad Plays, with worse Translations,
      And like old Sternhold with laborious spite,
      Burlesque what nobler Muses better write:
      Thus while they for their Causes only seem
      To change the Channel, they corrupt the Stream.
      So breaking Vintners to increase their Wine,
      With nauseous Drugs debauch the generous Vine:
      So barren Gipsies for recruit are said,
      With Strangers Issue to maintain the Trade;
      But lest the fair Bantling should be known,
      A daubing Walnut makes him all their own.
    • 2014 March 23, Peter Hitchens, “We're being dragged into a new Cold War by a puffed-up bullfrog (and I don't mean President Putin)”, in Peter Hitchens's Blog at The Mail on Sunday (UK)[1]:
      [S]aving of all kinds is pointless when interest is microscopic and state-sponsored inflation is debauching the currency.
  3. (intransitive) To indulge in revelry.


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Related terms[edit]


  1. ^ Douglas Harper (2001–2024) “debauch”, in Online Etymology Dictionary.