louse

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English[edit]

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A head louse under illumination and magnified.

Etymology[edit]

From Middle English lous, lows, lowse, from Old English lūs, from Proto-Germanic *lūs (compare West Frisian lûs, Dutch luis, German Low German Luus, German Laus), from Proto-Indo-European *lewH- (compare Welsh llau (lice), Tocharian B luwo, maybe Sanskrit यूका (yūkā)).

Pronunciation[edit]

  • (UK) IPA(key): /laʊs/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -aʊs

Noun[edit]

louse (plural lice or louses)

  1. A small parasitic wingless insect of the order Psocodea.
  2. (colloquial, dated, not usually used in plural form) A contemptible person; one who is deceitful or causes harm.
    • 1946, Joseph Thompson Shaw, The hard-boiled omnibus: early stories from Black Mask (page 388)
      He said: "Thanks, friend; but you're wasting your time. You better warn Crocker. If that louse makes a play for me, he'll get hit with Chicago lightning!"
    • 1949, Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend (song)
      It's then that those louses go back to their spouses. Diamonds are a girl's best friend.

Usage notes[edit]

  • When used as a term of abuse, the plural is typically louses, though lice is also possible.

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Verb[edit]

louse (third-person singular simple present louses, present participle lousing, simple past and past participle loused)

  1. To remove lice from; to delouse.
    • 1938, Norman Lindsay, Age of Consent, Sydney: Ure Smith, published 1962, page 108:
      There were a few wire-netted enclosures to keep young chickens from the hawks, but the fowls wandered at large, coming about the hut to ruffle their feathers in the dust, and louse themselves, and pick up scraps.

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Middle English[edit]

Noun[edit]

louse

  1. Alternative form of lous