Definition from Wiktionary, the free dictionary
Jump to navigation Jump to search
See also: -meal



  • IPA(key): /miːl/
  • (file)
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -iːl

Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English mel, from Old English mǣl (measure, time, occasion, set time, time for eating, meal), from Proto-Germanic *mēlą, from Proto-Indo-European *meh₁- (to measure). Cognate with West Frisian miel, Dutch maal (meal, time, occurrence), German Mal (time), Mahl (meal), Swedish mål (meal); and (from Indo-European) with Ancient Greek μέτρον (métron, measure), Latin mensus, Russian ме́ра (méra, measure), Lithuanian mẽtas. Related to Old English mǣþ (measure, degree, proportion).


meal (plural meals)

  1. Food that is prepared and eaten, usually at a specific time, and usually in a comparatively large quantity (as opposed to a snack, which is a comparatively small quantity of food).
    Breakfast is the morning meal, lunch is the noon meal, and dinner, or supper, is the evening meal.
    • c1450, Secreta Secretorumː
      He that will cast meal upon meal is not able to have (a) long life.
    • c1500, The King and the Hermitː
      I have been there and taken deal / And have had many (a) merry meal.
    • 1535?, Dyfference Astronː
      But above all things beware that thou eat not till thou feel thy stomach empty and that it hath made good digestion of the first meal.
    • 1569, Fenton, Wondersː
      Besides he was so fantastical and unruly in his appetites, that he used no common meats at his meals, but was fed with the combs of cocks, the tongues of peahens.
    • 1606, Bodleyː
      Sir, I was thrice at Lamhith, to have dined with the Archeb since your departure, and still he was to dine, at the Court or with some Bishop. But I must and will find him as soon as I may: and rather at a meal, then otherwise, because I would have means, to participate at large, about our Collation.
    • 1606, William Shakespeare, Macbethː
      Ere we will eat our meal in fear, and sleep in the affliction of these terrible dreams that shake us nightly.
    • 1640, Richard Brathwait, Ar't asleep Husband? A BOULSTER LECTURE, Stored with all variety of witty Jests, merry Tales, and other pleasant passages; extracted from the choycest Flowers of Phi∣losophy, Poesy, ancient and moderne Historyː
      Give me but so many meals, and thou shalt find me one of the strongest Turkish males that ever English gennet bore.
    • 1796, Robert Bage, Hermsprong: or, Man As He Is Notː
      This letter was written whilst my hostess of the George was preparing the last meal I ever was to eat.
    • 1835, Edgar Allan Poe, The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaallː
      Puss, who seemed in a great measure recovered from her illness, now made a hearty meal of the dead bird, and then went to sleep with much apparent satisfaction.
    • 1837-1839, Charles Dickens, The Adventures of Oliver Twistː
      Indeed, the worthy gentleman, stimulated perhaps by the immediate prospect of being in active service, was in great spirits and good humor; in proof whereof, it may be here remarked, that he humorously drank all the beer at a draught; and did not utter, on a rough calculation, more than fourscore oaths during the whole progress of the meal.
    • 1982, Steven King, The Dark Tower: The Gunslingerː
      After the meal, he rinsed the cans from which they had eaten (marveling again at his own water extravagance), and when he turned around, Jake was asleep again.
    • 2013 July-August, Henry Petroski, “Geothermal Energy”, in American Scientist, volume 101, number 4:
      Energy has seldom been found where we need it when we want it. Ancient nomads, wishing to ward off the evening chill and enjoy a meal around a campfire, had to collect wood and then spend time and effort coaxing the heat of friction out from between sticks to kindle a flame. With more settled people, animals were harnessed to capstans or caged in treadmills to turn grist into meal.
    • 2016, Melissa Clark, Consider This Permission to Eat Burrata for Dinner in The New York Timesː
      In this recipe, I go even further, adding a robust salad to turn a lone cheese into a satisfying summer meal.
  2. Food served or eaten as a repast.
    • a1450, The Macro Playsː
      If thou wilt fare well at meat and meal, come and follow me.
    • 1855, Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grassː
      This is the meal pleasantly set ... . this is the meat and drink for natural hunger. It is for the wicked just the same as the righteous.
    • 2012 March-April, Anna Lena Phillips, “Sneaky Silk Moths”, in American Scientist, volume 100, number 2, page 172:
      Last spring, the periodical cicadas emerged across eastern North America. Their vast numbers and short above-ground life spans inspired awe and irritation in humans—and made for good meals for birds and small mammals.
  3. (obsolete) A time or an occasion.
    • a1425?, The Chester Plays
      You would weep at every meal, but for my son weep ye never a deal.
    • a1400?-a1470? The Governance of England,
      [] by occasion whereof they will, then at every meal, grouch with the king.
    • a1450, Henry Lovelich, The History of the Holy Grailː
      Which was to them a sorry meal.
    • a1450, Henry Lovelich, Merlinː
      Also soon as the dragons together feal, betwixt them shall begin a sorry meal.
    • a1450, The York Playsː
      What mean ye.. to make mourning at ilk a meal?
    • 1481, William Caxton, Reynard the Foxː
      I shall do late you have so much that ten of you should not eat it at one meal.
    • a1500, Alexander-Cassamus Fragmentː
      Of all the day throughout, keep I no better meal than on her to think.
    • c1500, In A Chyrchː
      Thou couth well weep at every meal.
Usage notes[edit]
  • In the third sense, "meal" is a fossil word and is usually found in the archaic/obsolete phrase "at every (ilk a) meal" meaning on every occasion, confer also "at ilk a tide". It fell out of common usage in the late 15th century. Also, "at one meal" sometimes meant at a time, at once, at one time or in one go; see also German auf einmal (literally, upon one meal). "To keep (the) meal" probably used to mean to use/spend one's time. See the Modern English translation for the penultimate quotation for the third sense which is to followː "of all the day throughout, I spend no better time than when I think about her". A "sorry meal" used to mean a grim occasion such as a fight, setback, mishap or some sort of other misfortune.
  • "Meal", in the sense of a time or an occasion, also survives in other set phrases, such as piecemeal (one piece at a time), footmeal (one foot at a time), heapmeal (in large numbers) etc..

The Middle English Dictionary

Derived terms[edit]

Etymology 2[edit]

From Middle English mele, from Old English melu (meal, flour), from Proto-Germanic *melwą (meal, flour), from Proto-Indo-European *melh₂- (to grind, mill). Cognate with West Frisian moal, Dutch meel, German Mehl, Albanian miell, Proto-Slavic *melvo (grain to be ground) (Bulgarian мливо (mlivo)), Dutch malen (to grind), German mahlen (to grind), Old Irish melim (I grind), Latin molō (I grind), Tocharian A/B malywët (you press)/melye (they tread on), Lithuanian málti, Old Church Slavonic млѣти (mlěti), Ancient Greek μύλη (múlē, mill). More at mill.


meal (countable and uncountable, plural meals)

  1. The coarse-ground edible part of various grains often used to feed animals; flour or a coarser blend than flour.
    • 2013 July-August, Henry Petroski, “Geothermal Energy”, in American Scientist, volume 101, number 4:
      Ancient nomads, wishing to ward off the evening chill and enjoy a meal around a campfire, had to collect wood and then spend time and effort coaxing the heat of friction out from between sticks to kindle a flame. With more settled people, animals were harnessed to capstans or caged in treadmills to turn grist into meal.
Derived terms[edit]
Coordinate terms[edit]

Etymology 3[edit]

Variation of mole (compare Scots mail), from Middle English mole, mool, from Old English māl, mǣl (spot, mark, blemish), from Proto-Germanic *mailą (wrinkle, spot), from Proto-Indo-European *mey- (to soil). More at mole.


meal (plural meals)

  1. (Britain dialectal) A speck or spot.
  2. A part; a fragment; a portion.


meal (third-person singular simple present meals, present participle mealing, simple past and past participle mealed)

  1. (transitive) To defile or taint.
    Were he meal'd with that / Which he corrects, than were he tyrannous. ― Shakespeare.



Alternative forms[edit]


Probably of the same origin as mal.


meal n (plural mealuri)

  1. steep, scarped shore region
  2. (figuratively) boondocks



meal ?

  1. meaning


Alternative forms[edit]

  • (Rumantsch Grischun) mel
  • (Sursilvan) mèl
  • (Surmiran) mêl


From Latin mel, from Proto-Indo-European *mélid.


meal m

  1. (Sutsilvan) honey

Scottish Gaelic[edit]


EB1911 - Volume 01 - Page 001 - 1.svg This entry lacks etymological information. If you are familiar with the origin of this term, please add it to the page per etymology instructions. You can also discuss it at the Etymology scriptorium.


meal (past mheal, future mealaidh, verbal noun mealadh or mealtainn, past participle mealte)

  1. enjoy


Derived terms[edit]