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See also: Sheer and sheer-



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Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English shere, scheere, schere, skere, from Old English sċǣre; merged with Middle English schyre, schire, shire, shir, from Old English sċīr (clear, bright; brilliant, gleaming, shining, splendid, resplendent; pure) and Middle English skyr, from Old Norse skírr (pure, bright, clear)[1], both from Proto-Germanic *skīriz (pure, sheer) and *skairiz, from Proto-Indo-European *sḱēy- (luster, gloss, shadow).

Cognate with Danish skær, German schier (sheer), Dutch schier (almost), Gothic 𐍃𐌺𐌴𐌹𐍂𐍃 (skeirs, clear, lucid). Outside Germanic, cognate to Albanian hir (grace, beauty; goodwill).


sheer (comparative sheerer or more sheer, superlative sheerest or most sheer)

  1. (textiles) Very thin or transparent.
    • 1954, Alexander Alderson, chapter 17, in The Subtle Minotaur[2]:
      “She sheathed her legs in the sheerest of the nylons that her father had brought back from the Continent, and slipped her feet into the toeless, high-heeled shoes of black suède.”
    • 1966, James Workman, The Mad Emperor, Melbourne, Sydney: Scripts, page 53:
      She was cunningly dressed in a black, sheer gown with gold ornaments showing her figure to perfection.
    Her light, sheer dress caught everyone’s attention.
  2. (obsolete) Pure in composition; unmixed; unadulterated.
    • c. 1592, William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, Induction, scene ii:
      If she say I am not fourteen pence on the score for sheer ale, score me up for the lying’st knave in Christendom.
    • c. 1595, William Shakespeare, King Richard the Second, Act V, scene iii:
      Thou sheer, immaculate and silver fountain, / From when this stream through muddy passages / Hath held his current and defiled himself!
  3. (by extension) Downright; complete; pure.
    • 1918, W. B. Maxwell, chapter 2, in The Mirror and the Lamp[3]:
      That the young Mr. Churchills liked—but they did not like him coming round of an evening and drinking weak whisky-and-water while he held forth on railway debentures and corporation loans. Mr. Barrett, however, by fawning and flattery, seemed to be able to make not only Mrs. Churchill but everyone else do what he desired. And if the arts of humbleness failed him, he overcame you by sheer impudence.
    • 2012, July 15. Richard Williams in Guardian Unlimited, Tour de France 2012: Carpet tacks cannot force Bradley Wiggins off track
      Cycling's complex etiquette contains an unwritten rule that riders in contention for a race win should not be penalised for sheer misfortune.
    I think it is sheer genius to invent such a thing.
    This poem is sheer nonsense.
    Through technological wizardry and sheer audacity, Google has shown how we can transform the intellectual riches of our libraries [] .
  4. Used to emphasize the amount or degree of something.
    • 2012 October 31, David M. Halbfinger, "New Jersey Reels From Storm's Thrashing," New York Times (retrieved 20 September 2021):
      Perhaps as startling as the sheer toll was the devastation to some of the state’s well-known locales. Boardwalks along the beach in Seaside Heights, Belmar and other towns on the Jersey Shore were blown away. Amusement parks, arcades and restaurants all but vanished. Bridges to barrier islands buckled, preventing residents from even inspecting the damage to their property.
    The army's sheer size made it impossible to resist.
  5. Very steep; almost vertical or perpendicular.
    It was a sheer drop of 180 feet.
Derived terms[edit]


sheer (comparative more sheer, superlative most sheer)

  1. (archaic) Clean; quite; at once.
    • 1791, William Cowper, The Iliad of Homer, translation of original by Homer, Book XVI:
      Hector the ashen lance of Ajax smote / With his broad faulchion, at the nether end, / And lopp’d it sheer.
    • 1888, Francis Hastings Doyle, “Hylas”, in The Return of the Guards: And Other Poems, translation of original by Theocritus:
      Swift into the dark stream at once he fell, / As the red star at once falls swift and sheer / From sky to sea
    • 1667, John Milton, “Book 6”, in Paradise Lost. A Poem Written in Ten Books, London: [] [Samuel Simmons], [], OCLC 228722708; republished as Paradise Lost in Ten Books: [], London: Basil Montagu Pickering [], 1873, OCLC 230729554:
      Descending , and in half cut sheer


sheer (plural sheers)

  1. A sheer curtain or fabric.
    Use sheers to maximize natural light.

Etymology 2[edit]

Perhaps from Dutch scheren (to move aside, skim); see also shear.


sheer (plural sheers)

  1. (nautical) The curve of the main deck or gunwale from bow to stern.
  2. (nautical) An abrupt swerve from the course of a ship.


sheer (third-person singular simple present sheers, present participle sheering, simple past and past participle sheered)

  1. (chiefly nautical) To swerve from a course.
    A horse sheers at a bicycle.
  2. (obsolete) To shear.

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ “Merriam-Webster online Dictionary”, in (please provide the title of the work)[1], accessed 6 August 2009, archived from the original on 11 November 2011

Part or all of this entry has been imported from the 1913 edition of Webster’s Dictionary, which is now free of copyright and hence in the public domain. The imported definitions may be significantly out of date, and any more recent senses may be completely missing.
(See the entry for sheer in
Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam, 1913.)





sheer (plural sheerisho)

  1. lion


Sadaf Munshi (2015), “Word Lists”, in Burushaski Language Documentation Project[4].

Middle English[edit]



  1. Alternative form of shere