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From Middle English plucken, plukken, plockien, from Old English pluccian, ploccian (to pluck, pull away, tear), also Old English plyċċan ("to pluck, pull, snatch; pluck with desire"), from Proto-Germanic *plukkōną, *plukkijaną (to pluck), of uncertain and disputed origin. Perhaps related to Old English pullian (to pull, draw; pluck off; snatch). Cognate with Saterland Frisian plukje (to pluck), West Frisian plôkje (to pick, pluck), Dutch plukken (to pluck), Limburgish plógte (to pluck), Low German plukken (to pluck), German pflücken (to pluck, pick), Danish and Norwegian plukke (to pick), Swedish plocka (to pick, pluck, cull), Icelandic plokka, plukka (to pluck, pull). More at pull.

An alternative etymology suggests Proto-Germanic *plukkōną, *plukkijaną may have been borrowed from an assumed Vulgar Latin *pilūc(i)cāre, a derivative of Latin pilāre (deprive of hair, make bald, depilate), from pilus (hair). The Oxford English Dictionary, however, finds difficulties with this and cites gaps in historical evidence.[1]

The noun sense of "heart, liver, and lights of an animal" comes from it being plucked out of the carcass after the animal is killed; the sense of "fortitude, boldness" derives from this meaning, originally being a boxing slang denoting a prize-ring, with semantic development from "heart", the symbol of courage, to "fortitude, boldness".


  • IPA(key): /plʌk/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -ʌk


pluck (third-person singular simple present plucks, present participle plucking, simple past and past participle plucked or (obsolete) pluckt)

  1. (transitive) To pull something sharply; to pull something out
    She plucked the phone from her bag and dialled.
    • 1900, Charles W[addell] Chesnutt, chapter I, in The House Behind the Cedars, Boston, Mass., New York, N.Y.: Houghton, Mifflin and Company [], →OCLC:
      The girl stooped to pluck a rose, and as she bent over it, her profile was clearly outlined.
    • 2020 December 2, Andy Byford talks to Paul Clifton, “I enjoy really big challenges...”, in Rail, page 53:
      "I want to bring that date forward. You only get one shot at this, and if I pluck a date from the air, you will judge me by it. So, until I am certain, I'm sticking with the previous date. [...].
  2. (transitive) To take or remove (someone) quickly from a particular place or situation.
    • 1937, Labour Party (Great Britain), Report of the Annual Conference (volumes 37-40, page 281)
      First of all, he says a lot of the promotions from the ranks are promotions of the sons of officers who have gone wrong , or got "plucked," or what not, and who are brought up again along another road for commissioned rank.
    • 1994, Tom Clancy, Armored Cav: A Guided Tour of an Armored Cavalry Regiment, New York: Berkley Books, →ISBN, page 281:
      The hardest mission fell to the tanker aircraft, decidedly unglamorous birds, mainly flown by Air Force Reserve crews—most of them plucked from their airline jobs—so rapidly called into service that FAA rules for crew rest time on domestic airlines were quietly violated for the next several weeks.
  3. (transitive, music) To gently play a single string, e.g. on a guitar, violin etc.
    Whereas a piano strikes the string, a harpsichord plucks it.
  4. (transitive) To remove feathers from a bird.
    • 1879, R[ichard] J[efferies], chapter 1, in The Amateur Poacher, London: Smith, Elder, & Co., [], →OCLC:
      Molly the dairymaid came a little way from the rickyard, and said she would pluck the pigeon that very night after work. She was always ready to do anything for us boys; and we could never quite make out why they scolded her so for an idle hussy indoors. It seemed so unjust.
  5. (transitive, now rare) To rob, steal from; to cheat or swindle (someone).
    • 1796, Mary Wollstonecraft, Letters Written in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, Oxford, published 2009, page 64:
      Indeed they seem to consider foreigners as strangers whom they should never see again, and might fairly pluck.
  6. (transitive) To play a string instrument pizzicato.
    Plucking a bow instrument may cause a string to break.
  7. (intransitive) To pull or twitch sharply.
    to pluck at somebody's sleeve
  8. (UK, university slang, transitive, obsolete) To reject (a student) after they fail an examination for a degree.
    • 1835, Scriblerus Redivivus [pseudonym; Edward Caswall], “Topics Concerning Pluck”, in A New Art Teaching How to be Plucked, [], Oxford, Oxfordshire: J. Vincent, →OCLC, page 34:
      For arguing that a man will be plucked take the Topics following: for among men likely to be plucked are these for the most part. He that hath no friends, he that hath many friends; the first because he hath none to put him in the right way; the second, because he hath many to draw him therefrom.
    • 1847 October 16, Currer Bell [pseudonym; Charlotte Brontë], Jane Eyre. An Autobiography. [], volumes (please specify |volume=I to III), London: Smith, Elder, and Co., [], →OCLC:
      He went to college, and he got— plucked, I think they call it: and then his uncles wanted him to be a barrister, and study the law []
    • 1848 November – 1850 December, William Makepeace Thackeray, chapter XX, in The History of Pendennis. [], volumes (please specify |volume=I or II), London: Bradbury and Evans, [], published 1849–1850, →OCLC:
      Let us hide our heads, and shut up the page. The lists came out; and a dreadful rumour rushed through the university, that Pendennis of Boniface was plucked.
    • 1850, [Charles Kingsley], Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet. [], volumes (please specify |volume=I or II), London: Chapman and Hall, [], →OCLC:
      He had been a medical student, and got plucked, his foes declared, in his examination.
    • 1863, Charles Reade, Hard Cash:
      "Well, the gooseberry pie is really too deep for me: but 'ploughed' is the new Oxfordish for 'plucked.' O mamma, have you forgotten that? 'Plucked' was vulgar, so now they are 'ploughed.' 'For smalls; but I hope I shall not be, to vex you and Puss.'"
    • 1884 May 8, William Stubbs, “XVII. A Last Statutory Public Lecture”, in Seventeen Lectures on the Study of Medieval and Modern History and Kindred Subjects, published 1887, page 440:
      I trust that I have never plucked a candidate in the Schools without giving him every opportunity of setting himself right.
  9. Of a glacier: to transport individual pieces of bedrock by means of gradual erosion through freezing and thawing.

Derived terms[edit]


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.


pluck (countable and uncountable, plural plucks)

  1. An instance of plucking or pulling sharply.
    Those tiny birds are hardly worth the tedious pluck.
    • 2006, Tom Cunliffe, Complete Yachtmaster, page 40:
      If you find yourself in this position, there is nothing for it but to haul out using external assistance. This may be from a friend who will give you a pluck off the wall, or you may be able to manage from your own resources.
  2. The lungs, heart with trachea and often oesophagus removed from slaughtered animals.
  3. (informal, figurative, uncountable) Guts, nerve, fortitude or persistence.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:courage
    He didn't get far with the attempt, but you have to admire his pluck.
  4. (African-American Vernacular, slang, uncountable) Cheap wine.
    Synonym: plonk

Derived terms[edit]


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.


  • ^ Douglas Harper (2001–2023), “pluck”, in Online Etymology Dictionary.
  • Anagrams[edit]