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Alternative forms[edit]


From Middle English oversetten (to set over, upset), from Old English ofersettan (to set over, install, conquer, overcome), from Proto-West Germanic *ubarsattjan (to set or place over, install, establish), equivalent to over- +‎ set. Compare Saterland Frisian uursätte (to cross over, translate), West Frisian oersette (to translate), Dutch overzetten (to ferry, transport, translate), German übersetzen (to cross over, translate), Swedish översätta (to translate).


  • (UK) IPA(key): /əʊvəˈsɛt/
  • (file)


overset (third-person singular simple present oversets, present participle oversetting, simple past and past participle overset)

  1. (obsolete) To set over (something); to cover.
  2. (intransitive) To turn, or to be turned, over; to be upset; to capsize.
    • 1719 May 6 (Gregorian calendar), [Daniel Defoe], The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, [], 3rd edition, London: [] W[illiam] Taylor [], published 1719, →OCLC, page 65:
      [] this Raft was so unweildy, and so overloaden, that after I was enter’d the little Cove, where I had landed the rest of my Goods, not being able to guide it so handily as I did the other, it overset, and threw me and all my Cargoe into the Water []
    • 1766, Thomas Mortimer, A New History of England, London: J. Wilson and J. Fell, Volume 3, Part 13, “George II. A.D. 1727,” p. 596,[1]
      [] the barge was hoisted out for the preservation of the admiral, who entered it accordingly; but all distinction of persons being now abolished, the seamen rushed into it in such crowds, that in a few moments it overset.
  3. (transitive) To knock over, capsize, overturn.
    • c. 1591–1595 (date written), William Shakespeare, “The Tragedie of Romeo and Ivliet”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act III, scene v]:
      In one little body
      Thou counterfeit’st a bark, a sea, a wind;
      For still thy eyes, which I may call the sea,
      Do ebb and flow with tears; the bark thy body is,
      Sailing in this salt flood; the winds, thy sighs;
      Who, raging with thy tears, and they with them,
      Without a sudden calm, will overset
      Thy tempest-tossed body.
    • 1726 October 28, [Jonathan Swift], “The Author Gives Some Account of Himself and Family, His First Inducements to Travel. []”, in Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. [] [Gulliver’s Travels], volume I, London: [] Benj[amin] Motte, [], →OCLC, part I (A Voyage to Lilliput), page 6:
      We therefore truſted our ſelves to the Mercy of the Waves, and in about half an hour the Boat was over-ſet by a ſudden Flurry from the North.
    • 1819 July 15, [Lord Byron], Don Juan, London: [] Thomas Davison, [], →OCLC, canto II, stanza 104:
      A reef between them also now began / To show its boiling surf and bounding spray, / But finding no place for their landing better, / They ran the boat for shore,—and overset her.
    • 1847 January – 1848 July, William Makepeace Thackeray, chapter 6, in Vanity Fair [], London: Bradbury and Evans [], published 1848, →OCLC:
      “Except when he overset the glass of wine at dinner,” Miss Sharp said, with a haughty air and a toss of the head, “I never gave the existence of Captain Dobbin one single moment’s consideration.”
    • 1895 May 7, H[erbert] G[eorge] Wells, chapter 4, in The Time Machine: An Invention, New York, N.Y.: Henry Holt and Company, →OCLC:
      A pitiless hail was hissing round me, and I was sitting on soft turf in front of the overset machine.
  4. (obsolete) To overwhelm; to overthrow, defeat.
    • 1676, John Bunyan, The Strait Gate, or, Great Difficulty of Going to Heaven[2], London: Francis Smith, page 143:
      There is also the wilfully ignorant professor, or him that is afraid to know more, for fear of the cross; he is for picking and chusing of truth, and loveth not to hazzard his all for that worthy name by which he would be called: when he is at any time overset by arguments, or awaknings of conscience, he uses to heal all, by, I was not brought up in this faith []
  5. (transitive) To physically disturb (someone); to make nauseous, upset.
  6. (now rare) To unbalance (a situation, state etc.); to confuse, to put into disarray.
    • 1803, Robert Charles Dallas, The History of the Maroons, London: Longman and Rees, Volume 1, Letter 3, p. 74,[3]
      Amidst the calm produced by the treaty an event took place which had nearly overset the whole negotiation.
    • 1843 April, Thomas Carlyle, “XIII, "Democracy"”, in Past and Present, American edition, Boston, Mass.: Charles C[offin] Little and James Brown, published 1843, →OCLC, book III (The Modern Worker):
      Thus has the Tailor-art, so to speak, overset itself, like most other things; changed its centre-of-gravity; whirled suddenly over from zenith to nadir.
    • 1992, Hilary Mantel, A Place of Greater Safety, Harper Perennial, published 2007, page 152:
      ‘So this is the creature who oversets the household and suborns servants and clergymen,’ d'Anton said.
  7. (printing) to set (type or copy) in excess of what is needed; to set too much type for a given space.
  8. (transitive, rare) To translate.
    • 1879, The Saturday magazine, volume 1, page 87:
      Overset into English, after the spirits and measures of the authentical; by Dr. Heinrich Krauss, Ph.D., and so wider.
    • 1910, Leonard Bacon; Joseph Parrish Thompson; Henry Ward Beecher, The Independent - Volume 69 - Page 1220:
      They should be overset into English so as to reach a wider public here, for even his elementary descriptions of American universities, would not be so superfluous to any of us as we think, [...]
    • 2006, John David Pizer, The idea of world literature:
      The thought and its expression—these are the two factors which must solve the problem; and it matters not how much we translate or overset—as the Germans felicitously say—so long as we go no deeper and do not grasp at what all literatures have in common.
  9. To overfill.
    • 1646, James Howell, letter to Henry Hopkins dated 1 January, 1646 in Epistolæ Ho-Elianæ: The Familiar Letters of James Howell, Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1907, Volume 4, p. 17,[4]
      [Tobacco] is a good companion to one that converseth with dead men, for if one hath been poring long upon a book, or is toiled with the pen and stupefied with study, it quickeneth him, and dispels those clouds that usually overset the brain.