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From French harasser (to tire out, to vex), of obscure origin, perhaps from Old French harer (to stir up, provoke, set a dog on) and/or Old French harier (to harry); see harry; compare Old French, harace (a basket made of cords), harace, harasse (a very heavy and large shield).



harass (third-person singular simple present harasses, present participle harassing, simple past and past participle harassed)

  1. To fatigue or to tire with repeated and exhausting efforts.
    • 1898, Winston Churchill, chapter 4, in The Celebrity:
      No matter how early I came down, I would find him on the veranda, smoking cigarettes, or [] . And at last I began to realize in my harassed soul that all elusion was futile, and to take such holidays as I could get, when he was off with a girl, in a spirit of thankfulness.
  2. To annoy endlessly or systematically; to molest.
    • 1877, Anna Sewell, Black Beauty Chapter 23[1]
      In my old home, I always knew that John and my master were my friends; but here, although in many ways I was well treated, I had no friend. York might have known, and very likely did know, how that rein harassed me; but I suppose he took it as a matter of course that could not be helped; at any rate nothing was done to relieve me.
  3. To put excessive burdens upon; to subject to anxieties.
    To harass good people is no different than speaking ill of them.


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  1. (obsolete) devastation; waste
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Milton to this entry?)
  2. (obsolete) worry; harassment
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Byron to this entry?)