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See also: sméar



From Middle English smeren, smerien, from Old English smerian, smyrian, smierwan (to anoint or rub with grease, oil, etc.), from Proto-West Germanic *smirwijan, from Proto-Germanic *smirwijaną. Doublet of schmear.

Cognate with Saterland Frisian smeere, Dutch smeren, Low German smeren, German schmieren.



smear (third-person singular simple present smears, present participle smearing, simple past and past participle smeared)

  1. (transitive) To spread (a substance, especially one that colours or is dirty) across a surface by rubbing.
    Synonyms: apply, daub, plaster, spread
    The artist smeared paint over the canvas in broad strokes.
    • 1776, Oliver Goldsmith, chapter 5, in A Survey of Experimental Philosophy[2], London: T. Carnan and F. Newbery, page 74:
      In general, all bodies whose surfaces are even will [] stick to each other, and if a liquid be smeared over either surface, their cohesion will be still the stronger.
    • 2019, Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous[3], New York: Penguin:
      Then you would kneel and smear a handful of pomade through my hair, comb it over.
  2. (transitive) To cover (a surface with a layer of some substance) by rubbing.
    Synonyms: bedaub, coat, cover, daub, layer, plaster
    She smeared her lips with lipstick.
    • c. 1606 (date written), William Shakespeare, “The Tragedie of Macbeth”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act II, scene ii]:
      Why did you bring these daggers from the place?
      They must lie there: go carry them; and smear
      The sleepy grooms with blood.
    • 1667, John Milton, “[ Book 10 [11]]”, in Paradise Lost. [], London: [] [Samuel Simmons], [], →OCLC; republished as Paradise Lost in Ten Books: [], London: Basil Montagu Pickering [], 1873, →OCLC, lines 725-727:
      [] a Vessel of huge bulk,
      Measur’d by Cubit, length, & breadth, and highth,
      Smeard round with Pitch,
    • 1964, Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man[4], London: Vintage, published 2010, page 53:
      [] it’s better if we admit to disliking and hating them, than if we try to smear our feelings over with pseudo-liberal sentimentality.
  3. (transitive) To make something dirty.
    Synonyms: besmirch, dirty, soil, sully
    • 1583, Arthur Golding, transl., The Sermons of M. John Calvin upon the Fifth Book of Moses called Deuteronomie[5], London: George Bishop, Sermon 41, p. 246:
      A man may bee smeared or grimed, and euerie man shall laugh at him, and yet he himselfe shall not perceiue it a whit.
    • 1855, Elizabeth Gaskell, chapter 11, in North and South[6], volume 2, London: Chapman and Hall, page 147:
      [] she returned, carrying Johnnie, his face all smeared with eating,
    • 2016, Ali Smith, chapter 2, in Autumn, Penguin, published 2017:
      His hands and forearms, his face, his good shirt and suit are smeared from the dustbins and climbing the fence,
  4. (transitive) (of a substance, etc.) To make a surface dirty by covering it.
  5. (transitive) To damage someone's reputation by slandering, misrepresenting, or otherwise making false accusations about them, their statements, or their actions.
    Synonyms: badmouth, besmirch, defame, sully, vilify
    The opposition party attempted to smear the candidate by spreading incorrect and unverifiable rumors about their personal behavior.
    • 1914 June, James Joyce, Dubliners, London: Grant Richards, →OCLC, page 164:
      May everlasting shame consume
      The memory of those who tried
      To befoul and smear th’ exalted name
      Of one who spurned them in his pride.
    • 1976, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, “J.M.—A Writer’s Tribute” in Writers in Politics, London: Heinemann, 1981, p. 82,[8]
      The imperialist foreigners then in the offices of the Nation Newspapers would not allow the African staff to review it. They handled it themselves in order to smear the book and its author and his celebration of Mau Mau resistance.
    • 2018, Richard Powers, “Neelay Mehta”, in The Overstory[9], New York: Norton:
      They’ll smear him on the country’s dial-up bulletin boards as the worst traitor.
  6. (transitive) To cause (something) to be messy or not clear by rubbing and spreading it.
    Synonyms: blur, smudge
  7. (intransitive) To become messy or not clear by being spread.
    Synonym: smudge
    The paint is still wet — don't touch it or it will smear.
  8. (transitive) To write or draw (something) by spreading a substance on a surface.
    • 1970, Saul Bellow, chapter 2, in Mr. Sammler’s Planet[12], New York: Fawcett, published 1971, page 84:
      ciphers smeared on the windows of condemned shops
    • 1985, Don DeLillo, White Noise[13], Penguin, Part 3, Chapter 39, p. 311:
      smear crude words on the walls in the victim’s own blood as evidence of his final cult-related frenzy
    • 2001, Richard Flanagan, “The Freshwater Crayfish”, in Gould’s Book of Fish[14], New York: Grove Press, published 2002:
      [] she brought a red daubed finger up to my cheek & began to smear markings on my face.
  9. (transitive) To cause (something) to be a particular colour by covering with a substance.
    • 1864, Richard F. Burton, chapter 3, in A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome,[15], volume 1, London: Tinsley Brothers, page 43:
      small wooden dolls smeared red as though with blood
    • 1917, William Carlos Williams, “Pastoral”, in Al Que Quiere![16], Boston: The Four Seas Company, page 15:
      the fences and outhouses
      built of barrel-staves
      and parts of boxes, all,
      if I am fortunate,
      smeared a bluish green
    • 1993, Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy[17], Penguin, published 1994, Chapter 2.1, p. 73:
      They paid the tonga-wallah double his regular fare and smeared his forehead pink and that of his horse green for good measure.
  10. (transitive) To rub (a body part, etc.) across a surface.
  11. (transitive) To attempt to remove (a substance) from a surface by rubbing.
    • 1838, Boz [pseudonym; Charles Dickens], Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy’s Progress. [], volumes (please specify |volume=I, II, or III), London: Richard Bentley, [], →OCLC, page 198:
      He had [] a dirty belcher handkerchief round his neck, with the long frayed ends of which he smeared the beer from his face as he spoke:
    • 1926, D. H. Lawrence, chapter 5, in The Plumed Serpent[20], London: Heinemann, published 1955, page 85:
      The boatman rowed short and hard [] , only pausing at moments swiftly to smear the sweat from his face with an old rag he kept on the bench beside him.
    • 1960, Katherine Anne Porter, “Holiday” in Douglas and Sylvia Angus (eds.), Contemporary American Short Stories, New York: Ballantine, 1983, p. 323,[21]
      [] she stood and shook with silent crying, smearing away her tears with the open palm of her hand.
  12. (climbing) To climb without using footholds, using the friction from the shoe to stay on the wall.

Derived terms[edit]



smear (countable and uncountable, plural smears)

A bacterial smear
  1. A mark made by smearing.
    Synonym: streak
    This detergent cleans windows without leaving smears.
    • 1886, Thomas Hardy, chapter 8, in The Mayor of Casterbridge[22], volume 2, London: Smith, Elder, page 108:
      A smear of decisive lead-coloured paint had been laid on to obliterate Henchard’s name, though its letters dimly loomed through like ships in a fog.
    • 1933, Robert Byron, First Russia, Then Tibet[23], London: Macmillan, Part 2, Chapter 8:
      Vast avalanches had left their dirty smears on the opposing slopes,
    • 1952, Nevil Shute, chapter 2, in The Far Country[24], London: Heinemann:
      she bought a couple of rolls filled with a thin smear of potted meat for her breakfast
    • 2005, John Banville, The Sea[25], London: Picador, Part 2, p. 228:
      I could see the roofs of the town on the horizon, and farther off and higher up, a tiny silver ship propped motionless on a smear of pale sea.
  2. (countable, uncountable) A false or unsupported, malicious statement intended to injure a person's reputation.
    Synonyms: calumny, slander, slur, mudslinging
    • 1752, Theophilus Cibber, A Lick at a Liar[26], London: R. Griffiths, page 7:
      I should have held him quite beneath my Notice, as is all he utters, but that the Appetite of Slander, in many, is too predominant; and, ’tis possible, when the filthiest Fellow throws a Profusion of Dirt, some may chance to stick, if not timely thrown off; I shall endeavour therefore, to wipe away the sooty Smears of this Chimney-sweeper, by relating a simple Fact, which will, I flatter myself, amply confute the malicious Tales of this unprovoked, rancorous Mortal:
    • a. 1969, John Kennedy Toole, chapter 13, in A Confederacy of Dunces, Penguin, published 1981, →ISBN, page 289:
      “I’d rather not [read the newspaper article]. It’s probably full of falsification and smear. The yellow journalists doubtlessly suggested all sorts of lip-smacking innuendoes.”
  3. (biology) A preparation to be examined under a microscope, made by spreading a thin layer of a substance (such as blood, bacterial culture) on a slide.[1]
    Synonym: squash
  4. (medicine) A Pap smear (screening test for cervical cancer).
    Synonyms: cervical smear, Pap test
    I'm going to the doctor's this afternoon for a smear.
  5. (radio, television, uncountable) Any of various forms of distortion that make a signal harder to see or hear.
    • 1954, Radio & Television News: Radio-electronic engineering section:
      In television terms, a certain amount of smear, ringing, and anticipatory overshoot are indigenous to VSB transmission.
    • 1972, Scientific and Technical Aerospace Reports:
      Results show the reduction in intelligibility produced by changing the filter condition was much greater than reductions caused by altering smear duration.
  6. (climbing) A maneuver in which the shoe is placed onto the holdless rock, and the friction from the shoe keeps it in contact
  7. (music) A rough glissando in jazz music.

Derived terms[edit]



  1. ^ Edwin Benzel Steen, Dictionary of Biology, New York: Barnes & Noble, 1971.[1]