set off

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set off (third-person singular simple present sets off, present participle setting off, simple past and past participle set off)

  1. (idiomatic, intransitive) To leave; to begin a journey or trip.
    He set off in search of better opportunities.
    • 1941 October, “Notes and News: A Highland Runaway”, in Railway Magazine, page 469:
      Considerable excitement was caused on the L.M.S.R. Aberdeen line out of Perth recently when a shunting engine in Perth North goods yard, whose driver and fireman were absent, was accidentally set in motion by a shunter and set off unattended on to the main line.
  2. (idiomatic, transitive) To begin; to cause; to initiate.
    I had no idea that one simple comment would set off such a huge argument.
  3. (idiomatic, transitive) To cause to explode, let off.
    What a tragedy, that someone would set off a bomb in a crowded place.
    • 2008, BioWare, Mass Effect (Science Fiction), Redwood City: Electronic Arts, →ISBN, OCLC 246633669, PC, scene: Secure Lab, Rift Station, Noveria:
      Wrex There are acid tanks rigged up on that thing. Set them off. Millions of my ancestors died to put these things down. Don't let them come back.
  4. (idiomatic, transitive) To put into an angry mood; to start (a person) ranting or sulking, etc.
    Don't set him off or he won't shut up all day.
  5. (idiomatic, transitive) To enhance by emphasizing differences.
    Her plain white dress was set off by a bright red stole.
    • 1902, John Buchan, The Outgoing of the Tide
      And then one afternoon in the hinder end of April came young Heriotside riding to the Skerburnfoot. His arm was healed, he had got him a fine new suit of green, and his horse was a mettle beast that well set off his figure.
  6. (idiomatic, transitive) To offset, to compensate for: to reduce the effect of, by having a contrary effect.
    My taxes did not increase because the amount of my raise was set off by my losses in the stock market.
    • 1908, Henry James, chapter XXXIX, in The Portrait of a Lady (The Novels and Tales of Henry James), volume (please specify |volume=I or II), New York edition, Boston, Mass.; New York, N.Y.: Charles Scribner’s Sons, OCLC 4447781; republished as The Portrait of a Lady (EBook #283), United States: Project Gutenberg, 1 September 2001:
      When a woman had made such a mistake, there was only one way to repair it,—to accept it. One folly was enough, especially it was to last for ever; a second one would not much set it off.
  7. (printing, historical) To deface or soil the next sheet; said of the ink on a freshly printed sheet, when another sheet comes in contact with it before it has had time to dry.


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