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Street lantern
Portable lantern

Alternative forms[edit]


Middle English lanterne (13th century), via Old French lanterne from Latin lanterna (lantern), itself a corruption of Ancient Greek λαμπτήρ (lamptḗr, torch) (see lamp, λάμπω (lámpō)) by influence of Latin lucerna (lamp). The spelling lanthorn was current during the 16th to 19th centuries and originates with a folk etymology associating the word with the use of horn as translucent cover. For the verb, compare French lanterner to hang at the lamppost. Displaced native Old English lēohtfæt (literally light-container).



lantern (plural lanterns)

  1. A case of translucent or transparent material made to protect a flame, or light, used to illuminate its surroundings.
  2. (theater) Especially, a metal casing with lens used to illuminate a stage (e.g. spotlight, floodlight).
  3. (architecture) An open structure of light material set upon a roof, to give light and air to the interior.
    • 1852 March – 1853 September, Charles Dickens, chapter 1, in Bleak House, London: Bradbury and Evans, [], published 1853, →OCLC:
      On such an afternoon, if ever, the Lord High Chancellor ought to be sitting here—as here he is—with a foggy glory round his head, softly fenced in with crimson cloth and curtains, addressed by a large advocate with great whiskers, a little voice, and an interminable brief, and outwardly directing his contemplation to the lantern in the roof, where he can see nothing but fog.
    • 2022 January 12, Paul Bigland, “Fab Four: the nation's finest stations: Eastbourne”, in RAIL, number 948, page 27:
      The station also boasts a large semi-domed French pavilion roof with fish-scale tiles and iron cresting, plus a rectangular hall with arcaded upper storey and wooden lantern.
  4. (architecture) A cage or open chamber of rich architecture, open below into the building or tower which it crowns.
  5. (architecture) A smaller and secondary cupola crowning a larger one, for ornament, or to admit light.
    the lantern of the cupola of the Capitol at Washington, or that of the Florence cathedral
  6. (engineering) A lantern pinion or trundle wheel.
  7. (steam engines) A kind of cage inserted in a stuffing box and surrounding a piston rod, to separate the packing into two parts and form a chamber between for the reception of steam, etc.; a lantern brass.
  8. (rail transport) A light formerly used as a signal by a railway guard or conductor at night.
  9. (metalworking) A perforated barrel to form a core upon.
  10. (zoology) Aristotle's lantern

Derived terms[edit]




lantern (third-person singular simple present lanterns, present participle lanterning, simple past and past participle lanterned)

  1. (transitive) To furnish with a lantern.
    to lantern a lighthouse


lantern (not comparable)

  1. Of a facial feature, large and squarish in shape as an old-fashioned lantern.
    • 1982, Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe and Everything, page 113:
      A youngish looking man came up to him, and aggressive-looking type with a hook mouth, a lantern nose, and small beady little cheekbones.

See also[edit]


Middle English[edit]



  1. Alternative form of lanterne