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From Old French desfier, from Vulgar Latin *disfidare (renounce one's faith), from Latin dis- (away) + fidus (faithful). Meaning shifted in the 14th century from "be disloyal" to "challenge". Contrast confide, fidelity, faith.


  • (UK) IPA(key): /dɪˈfaɪ/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -aɪ


defy (third-person singular simple present defies, present participle defying, simple past and past participle defied)

  1. (transitive) To challenge (someone) or brave (a hazard or opposition).
    to defy an enemy;   to defy the power of a magistrate;   to defy the arguments of an opponent;   to defy public opinion
    • 1671, John Milton, Samson Agonistes
      I once again / Defie thee to the trial of mortal fight.
    • 1900, Edith King Hall, Adventures in Toyland Chapter 6
      "So you actually think yours is good-looking?" sneered the Baker. "Why, I could make a better-looking one out of a piece of dough."
      "I defy you to," the Hansom-driver replied. "A face like mine is not easily copied. Nor am I the only person of that opinion. All the ladies think that I am beautiful. And of course I go by what they think."
  2. (transitive) To refuse to obey.
    If you defy your teacher you may end up in detention.
    • 2005, George W. Bush, Presidential Radio Address - 19 March 2005
      Before coalition forces arrived, Iraq was ruled by a dictatorship that murdered its own citizens, threatened its neighbors, and defied the world.
    • 2013 August 10, Lexington, “Keeping the mighty honest”, in The Economist, volume 408, number 8848:
      British journalists shun complete respectability, feeling a duty to be ready to savage the mighty, or rummage through their bins. Elsewhere in Europe, government contracts and subsidies ensure that press barons will only defy the mighty so far.
  3. To not conform to or follow a pattern, set of rules or expectations.
    • 1955, Anonymous, The Urantia Book Paper 41
      By tossing this nineteenth electron back and forth between its own orbit and that of its lost companion more than twenty-five thousand times a second, a mutilated stone atom is able partially to defy gravity and thus successfully to ride the emerging streams of light and energy, the sunbeams, to liberty and adventure.
    • 2013, Jeré Longman in the New York Times, W.N.B.A. Hopes Griner Can Change Perceptions, as Well as Game Itself
      “To be determined,” Kane said, “is whether Griner and her towering skill and engaging personality will defy the odds and attract corporate sponsors as part of widespread public acceptance four decades after passage of the gender-equity legislation known as Title IX.”
  4. (transitive, obsolete) To renounce or dissolve all bonds of affiance, faith, or obligation with; to reject, refuse, or renounce.

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defy (plural defies)

  1. (obsolete) A challenge.