From Wiktionary, the free dictionary
Jump to navigation Jump to search
See also: Fray


A fraying metal cable.


Etymology 1[edit]

The verb is derived from Late Middle English fraien (to beat so as to cause bruising, to bruise; to crush; to rub; to wear, wear off),[1] borrowed from Old French fraier, freier, freiier (modern French frayer (to clear, open up (a path, etc.); (figuratively) to find one’s way through (something); (obsolete) to rub)), from Latin fricāre,[2] the present active infinitive of fricō (to chafe; to rub), an intensive form of friō (to break into pieces, crumble; to rub), ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *bʰreyH- (to cut). Sense 1.2 (“to force or make (a path, way, etc.) through”) is derived from modern French frayer: see above.

The noun is derived from the verb.[3]


fray (third-person singular simple present frays, present participle fraying, simple past and past participle frayed)

  1. (transitive)
    1. (also figuratively) To rub or wear away (something); to cause (something made of strands twisted or woven together, such as cloth or rope) to unravel through friction; also, to irritate (something) through chafing or rubbing; to chafe.
      • 1538, Erasmus Sarcerius, “Of the Lawe of God”, in Richard Taverner, transl., Cõmon Places of Scripture Ordrely and after a Cõpendious Forme of Teachyng, Set Forth with No Litle Labour, [], London: [] John Byddell, [], →OCLC, folio lxv, recto:
        S. Paul alſo defineth the law to be the knowlege of ſyn, yͭ is, which accuſeth, frayeth the cõſcience, & maketh ſynnes knowen.
      • 1710 November 13 (Gregorian calendar), Isaac Bickerstaff [et al., pseudonyms; Richard Steele], “Thursday, November 2, 1710”, in The Tatler, number 245; republished in [Richard Steele], editor, The Tatler, [], London stereotype edition, volume III, London: I. Walker and Co.;  [], 1822, →OCLC, page 309:
        [W]ith the help of her consorts, [she] carried off the following goods of her said lady; viz. [] four striped muslin night-rails very little frayed; []
      • 1840 April – 1841 November, Charles Dickens, “Chapter the Seventeenth”, in The Old Curiosity Shop. A Tale. [], volume I, London: Chapman and Hall, [], published 1841, →OCLC, page 182:
        Everything told of long use and quiet slow decay; the very bell-rope in the porch was frayed into a fringe, and hoary with old age.
      • 1860 December – 1861 August, Charles Dickens, chapter I, in Great Expectations [], volume III, London: Chapman and Hall, [], published October 1861, →OCLC, page 1:
        It was a little past mid-day when the four-horse stage-coach by which I was a passenger, got into the ravel of traffic frayed out about the Cross-Keys, Wood-street, Cheapside, London.
      1. (specifically) Of a deer: to rub (its antlers or head) against a tree, etc., to remove the velvet from antlers or to mark territory; also, to rub its antlers against (a tree, etc.) for that purpose.
    2. To force or make (a path, way, etc.) through.
    3. (obsolete) To bruise (someone or something); also, to take the virginity of (someone, usually a female person); to deflower.
  2. (intransitive)
    1. To become unravelled or worn; to unravel.
      The laces frayed at the cut end.
      • 1803 (date written), [Jane Austen], chapter III, in Northanger Abbey; published in Northanger Abbey: And Persuasion. [], volume I, London: John Murray, [], 20 December 1817 (indicated as 1818), →OCLC, pages 38–39:
        "And pray, sir, what do [you] think of Miss Morland's gown?" / "It is very pretty, madam," said he, gravely examining it; "but I do not think it will wash well; I am afraid it will fray."
    2. To rub.
      • 1884, Richard Jefferies, “Wild Exmoor”, in Red Deer, London: Longmans, Green, and Co., →OCLC, page 29:
        Another distance, I do not know how far, of dry dark heather continually fraying against my knees, is traversed, when in front appears a coombe, overgrown with heather from summit to foot, and I stop suddenly.
      1. (specifically) Of a deer: to rub its antlers against a tree, etc., to remove the velvet or to mark territory.
        • 1575, Jacques du Fouilloux, “Of the Termes of Venery”, in George Gascoigne, transl., The Noble Art of Venerie or Hunting. [], London: [] Thomas Purfoot, published 1611, →OCLC, page 244:
          His [a hart's] head when it commeth firſt out, hath a ruſſet pyll vpon it, the which is called Veluet, []. When his head is growne out to the full bigneſſe, then he rubbeth of that pyll, and that is called fraying of his head.
          A noun use.
        • 1820, Walter Scott, “[Miscellaneous Poems.] Hunting Song”, in The Poetical Works of Walter Scott, Esq. [], volume XII, Edinburgh: [] [James Ballantyne and Company] for Arch[ibald] Constable and Co.; London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown; and John Murray, →OCLC, page 122:
          And foresters have busy been, / To track the buck in thicket green; / [] / We can shew the marks he made, / When ’gainst the oak his antlers fray’d; []
        • 1884, Richard Jefferies, “Tracking Deer by Slot”, in Red Deer, London: Longmans, Green, and Co., →OCLC, page 112:
          Towards the end of July the harbourer begins to look round after the stags and notice their whereabouts. They are then fraying, rubbing the velvet off their new horns against the trees. He observes where the signs of fraying first appear, indicating that a full-grown stag is in the neighbourhood, as the best stags usually fray earliest.
    3. (figuratively) Of a person's mental strength, nerves, temper, etc.: to become exhausted or worn out.
      The hectic day ended in her nerves frayed.
Derived terms[edit]
Related terms[edit]


fray (plural frays)

  1. (archaic or obsolete) A consequence of rubbing, unravelling, or wearing away; a fraying; also, a place where fraying has occurred.
    • c. 1613 (date written; published 1630), Thomas Middleton, “A Chaste Maid in Cheapside”, in A[rthur] H[enry] Bullen, editor, The Works of Thomas Middleton [] (The English Dramatists), volume V, London: John C. Nimmo [], published 1885, →OCLC, Act I, scene i, page 7, lines 34–35:
      [T]here's no woman made without a flaw; / Your purest lawns have frays, and cambrics bracks.
      Modernized from the 1630 text, where the word was spelled frayes.
    • 1648, Robert Herrick, “[Amatory Odes.] Amatory Odes. Ode CXLI. To the Fever, Not to Trouble Julia..”, in Hesperides: Or, The Works both Humane & Divine [], London: [] John Williams, and Francis Eglesfield, and are to be sold by Tho[mas] Hunt, [], →OCLC; republished as Henry G. Clarke, editor, Hesperides, or Works both Human and Divine, volume I, London: H. G. Clarke and Co., [], 1844, →OCLC, page 98:
      'Tis like a lawny firmament, as yet / Quite dispossess'd of either fray or fret.
      The spelling has been modernized.

Etymology 2[edit]

From Late Middle English fraien (to attack, invade; to make an attack; to brawl, fight; to make a loud noise (?); to frighten, terrify; to be frightened of (something), fear),[4] an aphetic variant of affraien (to attack, invade; to harass; to brawl, fight; to riot; to reproach; to frighten, terrify; to be frightened of (something), fear; to alarm, disturb; to arouse, awaken, excite) (whence affray),[5][6] from Anglo-Norman affraier, afrayer (to frighten, terrify; to disquiet; to disturb) [and other forms], a variant of effreier, esfreier [and other forms], and Old French effreer, esfreer (to frighten, scare; to be afraid) [and other forms] (modern French effrayer),[7] from Vulgar Latin *exfridāre, from Latin ex- (prefix indicating privation) + Frankish *friþu (peace) (from Proto-Germanic *friþuz (peace, tranquility; refuge, sanctuary), ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *preyH- (to love; to please)).


fray (third-person singular simple present frays, present participle fraying, simple past and past participle frayed) (archaic or obsolete)

  1. (transitive)
    1. (except poetic) To alarm or frighten (someone or something).
      Synonyms: (archaic) affray, (obsolete) effray
    2. Often followed by away, off, or out: to frighten or scare (someone or something) away.
      Synonym: (archaic) affray
      • c. 1587–1588, [Christopher Marlowe], Tamburlaine the Great. [] The First Part [], 2nd edition, part 1, London: [] [R. Robinson for] Richard Iones, [], published 1592, →OCLC; reprinted as Tamburlaine the Great (A Scolar Press Facsimile), Menston, Yorkshire, London: Scolar Press, 1973, →ISBN, Act V, scene ii:
        VVhat, are the turtles fraid out of their neaſts?
      • 1611, The Holy Bible, [] (King James Version), London: [] Robert Barker, [], →OCLC, Jeremiah 7:33, column 1:
        And the carkeiſes of this people ſhall be meate for the fowles of the heauen, and for the beaſts of the earth, and none ſhall fray them away.
      • 1626, [Samuel] Purchas, “Relations of the Regions and Religions in Africa. []”, in Purchas His Pilgrimes. [], 5th part, London: [] William Stansby for Henrie Fetherstone, [], →OCLC, 6th book, § III (Of Crocodiles, Serpents, and Other Strange Creatures), page 624:
        It [the basilisk] frayeth avvay other Serpents vvith the hiſſing.
      • 1653, Henry More, “The Usefullnesse of Animalls an Argument of Divine Providence”, in An Antidote against Atheisme, or An Appeal to the Natural Faculties of the Minde of Man, whether There Be Not a God, London: [] Roger Daniel, [], →OCLC, book I, page 77:
        Beſides, all the vvit and Philoſophy in the vvorld can never demonſtrate, that the killing and ſlaughtering of a Beaſt is any more then the ſtriking of a Buſh vvhere a birds Neſt is, vvhere you fray avvay the Bird, and then ſeize upon the empty Neſt.
      • 1711 May 29 (Gregorian calendar), [Joseph Addison; Richard Steele et al.], “FRIDAY, May 18, 1711”, in The Spectator, number 68; republished in Alexander Chalmers, editor, The Spectator; a New Edition, [], volume I, New York, N.Y.: D[aniel] Appleton & Company, 1853, →OCLC, page 415:
        Whoso casteth a stone at the birds frayeth them away; and he that upbraideth his friend, breaketh friendship.
      • a. 1717 (date written), Robert South, “Sermon VII. Romans xii. 18.”, in Five Additional Volumes of Sermons Preached upon Several Occasions. [], volume X, London: [] Charles Bathurst, [], published 1744, →OCLC, page 232:
        Hovv fares it vvith him in the court of conſcience? [] Can he fray off the vultur from his breaſt, that night and day is gnavving his heart, and vvounding it vvith ghaſtly and amazing reflexions?
      • 1825 June 22, [Walter Scott], chapter VII, in Tales of the Crusaders. [], volume II (The Betrothed), Edinburgh: [] [James Ballantyne and Co.] for Archibald Constable and Co.; London: Hurst, Robinson, and Co., →OCLC, page 187:
        A murrain on thy voice! it is enough to fray every hawk from the perch.
      • 1829, [Isaac Taylor], “Section I. Enthusiasm, Secular and Religious.”, in Natural History of Enthusiasm, London: Holdsworth and Ball, →OCLC, page 4:
        [T]he many checks and reverses which belong to the common course of human life fray it away from present scenes, and either send it back in pensive recollections of past pleasures, or forwards in anticipation of a bright futurity.
    3. (by extension)
      1. To assail or attack (someone or something); to drive (someone or something) away by attacking.
      2. To chase (someone or something) away; to disperse.
        • 1583, Bartimeus Andreas [i.e., Bartimaeus Andrewes], “Canticles. 6.”, in Certaine Verie Worthie, Godly and Profitable Sermons, upon the Fifth Chapiter of the Songs of Solomon: [], London: [] Robert Waldegraue, for Thomas Man, →OCLC, page 35:
          And this is it, that frayeth men from Chriſt, becauſe they are loath to vunder go his burthen and yoke, to caſt of the world, & leuing thẽſeluen behind thẽ to follow Chriſt.
        • 1635, Fra[ncis] Quarles, “Canto XIV. Psal[m] XIII. III.”, in Emblemes, London: [] G[eorge] M[iller] and sold at at Iohn Marriots shope [], →OCLC, book I, stanza 2, page 57:
          Svveet Phoſpher bring the day, / Thy light vvill fray / Theſe horrid Miſts; []
  2. (intransitive)
    1. To be afraid or frightened; to fear.
    2. To make an assault or attack; also, to create a disturbance; to brawl, to fight.
      • 1657, Jam. Howel [i.e., James Howell], “Of the Twenty Sixth, or the Last Ward of the City of London, Called the Bridge-ward Without, Containing the Bourough of Southwark”, in Londinopolis; an Historicall Discourse or Perlustration of the City of London, the Imperial Chamber, and Chief Emporium of Great Britain: [], London: [] J[ohn] Streater, for Henry Twiford, George Sawbridge, Thomas Dring, and John Place, [], →OCLC, page 337:
        Then next is the Clinke, a Goale or Priſon for the Treſpaſſers in thoſe parts, namely, in old time for ſuch as ſhould brabble, fray, or break the peace on the ſaid Bank, or in the Brothel Houſes; []
Derived terms[edit]

Etymology 3[edit]

From Late Middle English frai (an assault, attack; a brawl, fight; disturbance, uproar; fine for assault or breach of the peace),[8] an aphetic variant of affrai, effrai (an assault, attack; a brawl, fight; disturbance, uproar; public disturbance, riot; dismay; fear; something frightening),[9][10] then:[11]

See further at etymology 2.


fray (countable and uncountable, plural frays)

  1. (countable) A noisy commotion, especially resulting from fighting; a brawl, a fight; also, a loud quarrel.
    Though they did not know the reason for the dispute, they did not hesitate to leap into the fray.
    • c. 1591–1595 (date written), [William Shakespeare], [] Romeo and Juliet. [] (First Quarto), London: [] Iohn Danter, published 1597, →OCLC, [Act III, scene i]:
      Pry[nce]: VVhere be the vile beginners of this fray? / Ben[volio]: Ah Noble Prince I can diſcouer all / The moſt vnlucky mannage of this bravvle. / [] Pry: Speake Benuolio vvho began this fray? / Ben: Tibalt heere ſlaine vvhom Romeos hand did ſlay.
    • 1678, John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World, to That which is to Come: [], London: [] Nath[aniel] Ponder [], →OCLC; reprinted in The Pilgrim’s Progress (The Noel Douglas Replicas), London: Noel Douglas, [], 1928, →OCLC, page 178:
      I for my part have been in the fray before novv, and though (through the goodneſs of him that is beſt) I am as you ſee alive: yet I cannot boaſt of my manhood. Glad ſhall I be, if I meet vvith no more ſuch brunts, though I fear vve are not got beyond all danger.
    • 2010 December 29, Mark Vesty, “Wigan 2 – 2 Arsenal”, in BBC Sport[1], archived from the original on 9 June 2021:
      Wigan, unbeaten in five games at the DW Stadium, looked well in control but the catalyst for Arsenal's improvement finally came when [Abou] Diaby left the field with a calf injury and Jack Wilshere came into the fray, bringing some much needed determination and urgency to lacklustre Arsenal.
    • 2022 October 30, Fiona Harvey, quoting Carlos Fuller, “Global anger at Sunak’s Cop27 snub that raises fears over UK’s climate crisis stance”, in The Guardian[2]:
      Carlos Fuller, Belize’s ambassador to the UN, said: “I can understand why the king was asked not to attend – keeping him out of the fray. However, as the principal UK policymaker and the Cop26 president, the PM should have led the summit.
  2. (countable, figuratively) A heated argument; a war of words.
  3. (uncountable) Conflict, disagreement.
    • a. 1632 (date written), John Donne, “Sermon XCIX. Preached at Lincoln’s Inn. The Second Sermon on Matthew xviii. 7.”, in Henry Alford, editor, The Works of John Donne, D.D., [], volume IV, London: John W[illiam] Parker, [], published 1839, →OCLC, page 306:
      It is the chafing of the lion, and the stirring of the viper, that aggravates the danger; the first blow makes the wrong, but the second makes the fray; and they that will endure no kind of abuse in state or church, are many times more dangerous than that abuse which they oppose.
    • 1676, [Matthew Hale], “Of Humility, Its Opposite Vices, Benefits, & Means to Acquire It”, in Contemplations Moral and Divine. [], London: [] William Godbid, for William Shrowsbury [], and John Leigh [], →OCLC, pages 344–345:
      [W]hen the conteſt is by the proud Man againſt the humble Man, the ſtrife is quickly at an end: it is a true Proverb, It is the ſecond blovv makes the fray: the humble Man gives vvay to the vvrath and inſolence of the proud Man, and thereby ends the quarrel; for Yielding pacifieth vvrath, ſaith the VViſe Man [Ecclesiastes 10:4], []
  4. (obsolete)
    1. (countable) An assault or attack.
      Synonym: (archaic) affray
    2. (countable) A loud noise; a cacophony, a din.
      • 1580, Thomas Tusser, “Huswifely Admonitions”, in Fiue Hundred Pointes of Good Husbandrie: [], London: [] Henrie Denham [beeing the assigne of William Seres] [], →OCLC; republished as W[illiam] Payne and Sidney J[ohn Hervon] Herrtage, editors, Five Hundred Pointes of Good Husbandrie. [], London: Published for the English Dialect Society by Trübner & Co., [], 1878, →OCLC, stanza 4, page 168:
        Where window is open, cat maketh a fray, / yet wilde cat with two legs is worse by my fay.
    3. (except Scotland, uncountable) Fright, terror; (countable) an instance of this.
      Synonym: (obsolete) affray
      • 1699, William Dampier, “The Country of Achin Described: []”, in Voyages and Descriptions. Vol. II. [], London: [] James Knapton, [], →OCLC, part I (His Voyage from Achin in Sumatra, to Tonquin, []), page 148:
        Thus that fray vvas over, and vve came aſhore again: recovered of the fright vve had been in.
Derived terms[edit]
Related terms[edit]

Etymology 4[edit]

An aphetic variant of defray.[12]


fray (third-person singular simple present frays, present participle fraying, simple past and past participle frayed)

  1. (transitive, obsolete, rare) To bear the expense of (something); to defray.


  1. ^ fraien, v.(2)”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  2. ^ fray, v.2”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2022; “fray1, v.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  3. ^ fray, n.2”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2022.
  4. ^ fraien, v.(1)”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  5. ^ affraien, v.(1)”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  6. ^ fray, v.1”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2022.
  7. ^ affray, v.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, June 2022.
  8. ^ frai, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  9. ^ affrai, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  10. ^ Compare “fray, n.1”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2022; “fray2, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  11. ^ affray, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, December 2021; “affray, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  12. ^ fray, v.3”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2021.

Further reading[edit]



Clipping of fraile (friar).


  • IPA(key): /ˈfɾai/ [ˈfɾai̯]
  • Rhymes: -ai
  • Syllabification: fray


fray m (plural frayes)

  1. friar
    Synonym: fr.

Further reading[edit]