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Alternative forms[edit]


Late Middle English, from Late Latin orphanus, from Ancient Greek ὀρφανός (orphanós, without parents, fatherless), from Proto-Indo-European *h₃órbʰos.

Cognate with Sanskrit अर्भ (árbha), Latin orbus (orphaned), Old High German erbi, arbi (German Erbe (heir)), Old English ierfa (heir). More at erf.



orphan (plural orphans)

  1. A person, especially a minor, both or (rarely) one of whose parents have died.
    • 1956, Delano Ames, chapter 9, in Crime out of Mind[1]:
      Rudolf was the bold, bad Baron of traditional melodrama. Irene was young, as pretty as a picture, fresh from a music academy in England. He was the scion of an ancient noble family; she an orphan without money or friends.
  2. A person, especially a minor, whose parents have permanently abandoned them.
  3. A young animal with no mother.
  4. (figuratively) Anything that is unsupported, as by its source, provider or caretaker, by reason of the supporter's demise or decision to abandon.
  5. (typography) A single line of type, beginning a paragraph, at the bottom of a column or page.
    Antonym: widow
  6. (computing) Any unreferenced object.
    • 2003, David D. Riley, The Object of Data Abstraction and Structures Using Java, page 234:
      An orphan isn't harmful in a language that has garbage collection, such as Java. However, reducing the number of orphans can be expected to improve code performance.

Derived terms[edit]



orphan (not comparable)

  1. Deprived of parents (also orphaned).
    She is an orphan child.
  2. (by extension, figuratively) Remaining after the removal of some form of support.
    With its government funding curtailed, the gun registry became an orphan program.

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orphan (third-person singular simple present orphans, present participle orphaning, simple past and past participle orphaned)

  1. (transitive) To deprive of parents (used almost exclusively in the passive)
    What do you do when you come across two orphaned polar bear cubs?
  2. (transitive, computing) To make unavailable, as by removing the last remaining pointer or reference to.
    When you removed that image tag, you orphaned the resized icon.
    Removing categories orphans pages from the main category tree.


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