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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
    • 1712 (date written), [Joseph] Addison, Cato, a Tragedy. [], London: [] J[acob] Tonson, [], published 1713, OCLC 79426475, Act I, scene v, page 1:
      Why shrinks the soul / Back on herself, and startles at destruction?
    • 1837, Letitia Elizabeth Landon, Ethel Churchill, volume 1, page 127:
      He felt, too, that he was acting unjustly by Ethel: he had allowed a fortnight to elapse—he startled when he numbered up the days; it is strange how we allow them to glide imperceptibly away.
  2. (transitive) To excite by sudden alarm, surprise, or apprehension; to frighten suddenly and not seriously; to alarm; to surprise.
  3. (transitive, obsolete) To deter; to cause to deviate.


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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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