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Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English shrede, shred (fragment, piece, scrap; piece cut off from something; strip of material; ornamental strip hanging from the edge of a garment; thread; band or thread woven in a garment; element, streak; plant (?)) [and other forms],[1] from Late Old English sċrēad, sċrēade (piece cut off from something; a paring; a shred), from Proto-Germanic *skraudō (a piece, shred; a crack; a cut), ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *(s)ker- (to cut off).[2] Doublet of escrow.


shred (plural shreds)

  1. A fragment of something; a particle; a piece; also, a very small amount.
    Synonyms: ounce; see also Thesaurus:modicum
    There isn’t a shred of evidence to support his claims.
    • 1593, Gabriel Harvey, Pierces Supererogation: Or A New Prayse of the Old Asse, London: [] Iohn Wolfe, →OCLC; republished as John Payne Collier, editor, Pierces Supererogation: Or A New Prayse of the Old Asse. A Preparative to Certaine Larger Discourses, Intituled Nashes S. Fame (Miscellaneous Tracts. Temp. Eliz. & Jac. I; no. 8), [London: [s.n.], 1870], →OCLC, page 66:
      His gayeſt flooriſhes are but Gaſcoignes Weedes, or Tarletons trickes, or Greenes crankes, or Marlowes bravadoes; his jeſts, but the dregges of common ſcurrilitie, or the ſhreds of the Theater, or the of-ſcouring of new pamflets: []
    • c. 1608–1609 (date written), William Shakespeare, “The Tragedy of Coriolanus”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act I, scene i], page 2, column 2:
      They ſaid they vvere an hungry, ſigh'd forth Prouerbes / That Hunger-broke ſtone vvals: that dogges muſt eate / That meate vvas made for mouths. That the gods ſent not / Corne for the Richmen onely: VVith theſe ſhreds / They vented their Complainings, []
    • 1642 April, John Milton, An Apology for Smectymnuus; republished in A Complete Collection of the Historical, Political, and Miscellaneous Works of John Milton, [], volume I, Amsterdam [actually London: s.n.], 1698, →OCLC, page 178:
      [] And like a ſon of Belial, vvithout the hire of Jeſabel, charges me of blaſpheming God and the King, as ordinarily he imagines me to drink Sack and ſvveare, meerely becauſe this vvas a ſhred in his common place-Book, []
    • 1860 January–June, W[illiam] M[akepeace] Thackeray, “In which I Play the Spy”, in Lovel the Widower, London: Smith, Elder and Co., [], published 1861, →OCLC, page 88:
      He munched a shred of toast, and was off by the omnibus to chambers.
    • 2022 January 12, Benedict le Vay, “The Heroes of Soham …”, in Rail, number 948, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire: Bauer Media, →ISSN, →OCLC, page 43:
      But signalman Bridges was never to answer driver Gimbert's desperate question. A deafening, massive blast blew the wagon to shreds, the 44 high-explosive bombs exploding like simultaneous hits from the aircraft they should have been dropped from. The station was instantly reduced to bits of debris, and the line to a huge crater.
  2. A long, narrow piece (especially of fabric) cut or torn off; a strip; specifically, a piece of cloth or clothing.
    1. (by extension) A thin strand or wisp, as of a cloud, mist, etc.
    2. (cooking) A thin strip of fruit peel, a vegetable, etc., cut so that it curls.
  3. (archaic) A piece of gold or silver lace or thread.
    • 1765, [Oliver] Goldsmith, “Essay XXVI. The Double Transformation: A Tale.”, in Essays. [], London: [] W. Griffin [], →OCLC, pages 230–231:
      But, vvhen a tvvelvemonth paſs'd avvay, / Jack found his goddeſs made of clay; / Found half the charms that deck'd her face, / Aroſe from povvder, ſhreds, or lace; []
  4. (rare) A shard or sherd (a piece of broken glass or pottery).
  5. (obsolete) A tailor.
Derived terms[edit]
Related terms[edit]

Etymology 2[edit]

The verb is derived from Middle English shreden, shred (to chop, cut up; to cut, hack; to wound with a knife; to cut off a part of (something); to prune, trim) [and other forms],[3] from Old English sċrēadian (to cut up, shred; to cut off; to prune, trim), from Proto-West Germanic *skraudōn, related to Proto-West Germanic *skraudan (to cut up; to shred), from Proto-Germanic *skraudaną (to cut up; to shred), ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *(s)ker- (to cut off).[4]

The adjective is derived from the past participle form of the verb.[5]


shred (third-person singular simple present shreds, present participle shredding, simple past shredded, past participle shredded or shred)

  1. (transitive)
    1. To cut or tear (something) into long, narrow pieces or strips.
      • 1729, E[liza] S[mith, “To Stuff a Shoulder or Leg of Mutton with Oysters”, in The Compleat Housewife: Or, Accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion: [], 3rd edition, London: [] J. Pemberton, [], →OCLC, page 10:
        Take a little grated Bread, ſome Beef-ſuet, yolks of hard Eggs, three Anchovies, a bit of an Onion, Salt and Pepper, Tyme and Winter-ſavory, twelve Oyſters, ſome Nutmeg grated; mix all theſe together, and ſhred them very fine, and work them up with raw Eggs like a paſte, and ſtuff your Mutton under the Skin in the thickeſt place, or where you pleaſe, and roaſt it; []
    2. (specifically)
      1. To destroy (a document) by cutting or tearing into strips or small pieces that cannot easily be read, especially using a shredder.
        • 1905–1906, Arthur Conan Doyle, “How Nigel was Tried by the Abbot of Waverley”, in Sir Nigel, London: Smith, Elder & Co., [], published January 1906, →OCLC, page 53:
          But then there was the awkward incident of the tearing of the writs. Nigel, to whom a lie was an impossibility, had to admit that with his own hands he had shredded those august documents.
      2. (cooking) To cut (fruit peel, a vegetable, etc.) into thin strips that curl.
    3. To separate (something) into small portions.
    4. (figuratively, chiefly slang)
      1. To reduce (something) by a large percentage; to slash.
      2. (music) Chiefly in rock and heavy metal: to play (a musical instrument (especially a guitar) or a piece of music) very fast.
      3. (snowboarding, surfing) To cut through (snow, water, etc.) swiftly with one's snowboard, surfboard, etc.; (by extension) to move or ride along (a road, track, etc.) aggressively and rapidly.
      4. (originally US) To convincingly defeat (someone); to thrash, to trounce.
    5. (archaic) To cut or sever (something) into two parts.
      • 1596, Edmund Spenser, “Book IV, Canto II”, in The Faerie Queene. [], part II (books IV–VI), London: [] [Richard Field] for William Ponsonby, →OCLC, stanza 52, pages 35–36:
        Then ſince (quoth ſhe) the terme of each mans life / For nought may leſſened nor enlarged bee, / Graunt this, that vvhen ye ſhred vvith fatall knife / His line, vvhich is the eldeſt of the three, / VVhich of them the ſhorteſt, as I ſee, / Eftſoones his life may paſſe into the next; []
    6. (obsolete)
      1. To chop or cut (something) into pieces.
        • 1627, Michaell Drayton [i.e., Michael Drayton], “The Battaile of Agin Court”, in The Battaile of Agincourt. [], London: [] A[ugustine] M[atthews] for VVilliam Lee, [], published 1631, →OCLC, page 43:
          Another vvafts his Blade about his head, / And ſhevvs them hovv their hãſtrings [hamstrings] he vvil ſhread.
        • 1633 (first performance), Ben Jonson, “A Tale of a Tub. A Comedy []”, in The Works of Ben Jonson, [] (Third Folio), London: [] Thomas Hodgkin, for H[enry] Herringman, E. Brewster, T. Bassett, R[ichard] Chiswell, M. Wotton, G. Conyers, published 1692, →OCLC, Act IV, scene ii, page 525:
          Seeſt thou this, bold bright blade? / This Sword ſhall ſhred thee as ſmall unto the Grave, / As minc'd meat for a Pie.
        • 1658, Samuel Crook [i.e., Samuel Crooke], “The Moral Hypocrite is He, in whom Reason Putteth Religion out of Office”, in C[hristopher] B[arker], W[illiam] G[arret], editors, ΤΑ ΔΙΑΦΕΡΟΝΤΑ [TA DIAPHERONTA], or Divine Characters in Tvvo Parts, [], London: [] Adoniram Byfeild [], →OCLC, 1st part, page 40:
          Morality ſhreddeth ſinne as a garden knot; but Religion ſtubbeth it up by the roots.
        • 1851, Henry Hayman, “Carthage”, in Dialogues of the Early Church: [], London: Skeffington and Southwell, [], →OCLC, part IV (The Shore of the Harbour), page 117:
          How? speak more at length. Thou snippest off news as a housewife shreddeth leeks.
      2. To cut, lop, or strip (branches, etc.) off; also, to cut (a piece) from something.
        • 1590, Matth[ew] Sutcliffe, “Of the Contrarietie of Their Discipline”, in A Treatise of Ecclesiasticall Discipline: [], London: [] George Bishop and Ralph Nevvberie, →OCLC, page 111:
          To call in queſtion the iuriſdiction of Archbiſhops, they affirme that no man is to take vpon him an office but hee that is called, as vvas Aaron: but they are not avvare, that the ſame poſition ſhreddeth avvay the vvilde autoritie of doctors, elders, conſiſtorie, conferences, & their abſurd and irregular Synodes, vvhich (as enemies in an aſſault enter the breach) vvould ſteale into the Church through the ruines thereof.
        • 1596, Tho[mas] Nashe, “Dialogus”, in Haue with You to Saffron-Walden. Or, Gabriell Harveys Hunt is Up. [], London: [] John Danter, →OCLC; republished as J[ohn] P[ayne] C[ollier], editor, Have with You to Saffron-Walden (Miscellaneous Tracts; Temp. Eliz. and Jac. I), [London: s.n., 1870], →OCLC, page 130:
          You ly, you ly, Gabriell: I know what you are about to ſaye, but He ſhred you off three leaves at one blowe.
        • 1604, George Downame, “What Vsurie is”, in Lectures on the XV. Psalme: [], London: [] Adam Islip for Cuthbert Burbie, [], →OCLC, page 194:
          [A]ll vſurie in it ovvne nature is biting, becauſe it biteth or ſhreddeth avvay ſome of the borrovvers ſubſtance.
        • 1707, J[ohn] Mortimer, “Of Pruning Forest-trees”, in The Whole Art of Husbandry; or, The Way of Managing and Improving of Land. [], 2nd edition, London: [] J[ohn] H[umphreys] for H[enry] Mortlock [], and J[onathan] Robinson [], published 1708, →OCLC, book XII, page 396:
          [C]rooked Trees may be made ſtreight by ſhredding up of the Side-branches till you come above the Crook, vvhere they are young.
        • 1808 February 22, Walter Scott, “Canto Third. The Hostel, or Inn.”, in Marmion; a Tale of Flodden Field, Edinburgh: [] J[ames] Ballantyne and Co. for Archibald Constable and Company, []; London: William Miller, and John Murray, →OCLC, stanza XVII, page 150:
          They durst not, for their island, shred / One golden ringlet from her head.
        • 1823, [Walter Scott], “The Wanderer”, in Quentin Durward. [], volume I, Edinburgh: [] [James Ballantyne and Co.] for Archibald Constable and Co.; London: Hurst, Robinson, and Co., →OCLC, pages 41–42:
          Every yard of this ground, excepting the path which we now occupy, is rendered dangerous, and well nigh impracticable, by snares and traps, armed with scythe-blades, which shred off the unwary passenger's limb as sheerly as a hedge-bill lops a hawthorn-sprig— []
        • 1888, Richard F[rancis] Burton, transl. and editor, “The Story of a Kazi who Bare a Babe. [Night 390.]”, in Supplemental Nights to the Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night [], Shammar edition, volume IV, [London]: [] Burton Club [], →OCLC, page 179:
          [S]he fell to feeding the hungry and clothing the naked and doling alms to the Fakírs saying, "This be the reward of him who mortifieth the daughters of folk and devoureth their substance and shreddeth off their nostrils." She also sent to the women he had married and divorced, and gave them of his good the equivalent of their dowers and a solatium for losing their noses.
      3. To prune or trim (a tree, a vineyard, etc.).
        • 1707, J[ohn] Mortimer, “Of Transplanting of Trees”, in The Whole Art of Husbandry; or, The Way of Managing and Improving of Land. [], 2nd edition, London: [] J[ohn] H[umphreys] for H[enry] Mortlock [], and J[onathan] Robinson [], published 1708, →OCLC, book XII, pages 386–387:
          As for Timber-trees, it is beſt not to head them at all, but to ſhred them up to one ſingle Bough, if the Soil be good that you plant them in; []
  2. (intransitive)
    1. To become separated into small portions.
      • 1889, Mark Twain [pseudonym; Samuel Langhorne Clemens], “The Battle of the Sand-belt”, in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, New York, N.Y.: Charles L. Webster & Company, →OCLC, page 554:
        We couldn't see over the wall of smoke, and we couldn't see through it. But at last it began to shred away lazily, and by the end of another quarter-hour the land was clear and our curiosity was enabled to satisfy itself. No living creature was in sight!
      • 1891, A[rthur] Conan Doyle, “How the Blessed Hour of Sight Came to the Lady Tiphaine”, in The White Company [], volume III, London: Smith, Elder, & Co., [], →OCLC, page 68:
        What is this that rises before me? Mist, mist, rolling mist with a square black tower above it. See it shreds out, it thins, it rises, and there lies a castle in a green plain, with the sea beneath it, and a great church within a bow-shot.
    2. (bodybuilding) To reduce body weight due to fat and water before a competition.
    3. (snowboarding, surfing, etc.) To travel swiftly using a snowboard, surfboard, or vehicle.
Derived terms[edit]


shred (comparative more shred, superlative most shred)

  1. Synonym of shredded (cut or torn into narrow strips or small pieces)


  1. ^ shrēde, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  2. ^ shred, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, December 2021; “shred, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  3. ^ shrēden, v.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  4. ^ shred, v.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, September 2021; “shred, v.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  5. ^ shred, adj.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, June 2018.

Further reading[edit]