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From Middle English startlen, stertlen, stertyllen (to rush, stumble along), from Old English steartlian (to kick with the foot, struggle, stumble), equivalent to start +‎ -le. Cognate with Old Norse stirtla (to hobble, stagger), Icelandic stirtla (to straighten up, erect). Compare also Middle English stertil (hasty). More at start.



startle (third-person singular simple present startles, present participle startling, simple past and past participle startled)

  1. (intransitive) To move suddenly, or be excited, on feeling alarm; to start.
    a horse that startles easily
    • (Can we date this quote?) Joseph Addison
      Why shrinks the soul / Back on herself, and startles at destruction?
  2. (transitive) To excite by sudden alarm, surprise, or apprehension; to frighten suddenly and not seriously; to alarm; to surprise.
    • (Can we date this quote?) John Locke
      The supposition, at least, that angels do sometimes assume bodies need not startle us.
    • 1896, Joseph Conrad, "An Outcast of the Islands"
      Nothing could startle her, make her scold or make her cry. She did not complain, she did not rebel.
    • 1997, R. L. Stine, Say Cheese and Die, Again!:
      The high voice in the night air startled me. Without thinking, I started to run. Then stopped. I spun around, my heart heaving against my chest. And saw a boy. About my age.
  3. (transitive, obsolete) To deter; to cause to deviate.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Clarendon to this entry?)


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startle (plural startles)

  1. A sudden motion or shock caused by an unexpected alarm, surprise, or apprehension of danger.
    • 1845, George Hooker Colton, James Davenport Whelpley, chapter 1, in The American review:
      The figure of a man heaving in sight amidst these wide solitudes, always causes a startle and thrill of expectation and doubt, similar to the feeling produced by the announcement of " a strange sail ahead" on shipboard, during a long voyage.

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