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 swell on Wikipedia


Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English swellen, from Old English swellan (to swell), from Proto-Germanic *swellaną (to swell), of unknown origin. Cognate with Old Frisian swella, Low German swellen, Dutch zwellen (to swell), German schwellen (to swell), Swedish svälla (to swell), Icelandic svella. The adjective may derive from the noun.


swell (third-person singular simple present swells, present participle swelling, simple past swelled, past participle swollen or swelled)

  1. (intransitive) To become bigger, especially due to being engorged.
    • Shakespeare
      Monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
  2. (transitive) To cause to become bigger.
    Rains and dissolving snow swell the rivers in spring.
    • Atterbury
      It is low ebb with his accuser when such peccadilloes are put to swell the charge.
    • 1905, Baroness Emmuska Orczy, chapter 2, in The Affair at the Novelty Theatre[1]:
      For this scene, a large number of supers are engaged, and in order to further swell the crowd, practically all the available stage hands have to ‘walk on’ dressed in various coloured dominoes, and all wearing masks.
    • 2013 June 18, Simon Romero, "Protests Widen as Brazilians Chide Leaders," New York Times (retrieved 21 June 2013):
      After a harsh police crackdown last week fueled anger and swelled protests, President Dilma Rousseff, a former guerrilla who was imprisoned under the dictatorship and has now become the target of pointed criticism herself, tried to appease dissenters by embracing their cause on Tuesday.
  3. (intransitive) To grow gradually in force or loudness.
    The organ music swelled.
  4. (transitive) To raise to arrogance; to puff up; to inflate.
    to be swelled with pride or haughtiness
  5. (intransitive) To be raised to arrogance.
    • Shakespeare
      Here he comes, swelling like a turkey cock.
    • Sir Walter Scott
      You swell at the tartan, as the bull is said to do at scarlet.
  6. To be elated; to rise arrogantly.
    • Dryden
      Your equal mind yet swells not into state.
  7. To be turgid, bombastic, or extravagant.
    swelling words; a swelling style
  8. To protuberate; to bulge out.
    A cask swells in the middle.

Etymology 2[edit]

From Middle English swell. From the verb swell.


swell (countable and uncountable, plural swells)

  1. The act of swelling.
  2. Increase of power in style, or of rhetorical force.
    • 1826, Walter Savage Landor, Imaginary Conversations, London: Henry Colburn, 2nd edition, Volume I, Conversation 6, p. 128,[2]
      Concentrated are his arguments, select and distinct and orderly his topics, ready and unfastidious his expressions, popular his allusions, plain his illustrations, easy the swell and subsidence of his periods []
  3. A long series of ocean waves, generally produced by wind, and lasting after the wind has ceased.
  4. (music) A gradual crescendo followed by diminuendo.
    • 1918, W. B. Maxwell, chapter 5, in The Mirror and the Lamp:
      He was thinking; but the glory of the song, the swell from the great organ, the clustered lights, […], the height and vastness of this noble fane, its antiquity and its strength—all these things seemed to have their part as causes of the thrilling emotion that accompanied his thoughts.
  5. (music) A device for controlling the volume of a pipe organ.
  6. (music) A division in a pipe organ, usually the largest enclosed division.
  7. A hillock or similar raised area of terrain.
    • 1909, Joseph A. Altsheler, The Last of the Chiefs, ch. 2:
      Off on the crest of a swell a moving figure was seen now and then. "Antelope," said the hunters.
  8. (informal, dated) A person who dresses in a fancy or elegant manner.
    • c. 1850, William Makepeace Thackeray, "The Kickleburys on the Rhine" in The Christmas Books of Mr. M. A. Titmarsh:
      It costs him no more to wear all his ornaments about his distinguished person than to leave them at home. If you can be a swell at a cheap rate, why not?
    • 1887, Horatio Alger, The Cash Boy, ch. 9:
      He was dressed in a flashy style, not unlike what is popularly denominated a swell.
  9. (informal) A person of high social standing; an important person.
    • 1864, Anthony Trollope, The Small House at Allington, ch. 2:
      "I am not in Mr Crosbie's confidence. He is in the General Committee Office, I know; and, I believe, has pretty nearly the management of the whole of it." . . .
      "I'll tell you what he is, Bell; Mr Crosbie is a swell." And Lilian Dale was right; Mr Crosbie was a swell.
    • 1900, Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim, Chapter 14,[3]
      The only sensible man I came across was the cabman who drove me about. A broken-down swell he was, I fancy.
    • 1906, Gilbert Parker, The Trespasser, ch. 8:
      You buy a lot of Indian or halfbreed loafers with beaver-skins and rum, go to the Mount of the Burning Arrows, and these fellows dance round you and call you one of the lost race, the Mighty Men of the Kimash Hills. And they'll do that while the rum lasts. Meanwhile you get to think yourself a devil of a swell—you and the gods!
    • 1938, Graham Greene, Brighton Rock, New York: Vintage, 2002, Part Seven, Chapter 3, p. 209,[4]
      [] Colleoni’s going to take over this place from you, and he’s got his lawyer. A man in London. A swell.’
  • (person dressed in a fancy or elegant manner): dandy, dude, toff
  • (person of high social standing): toff
Derived terms[edit]

Etymology 3[edit]

From the noun "swell" (a person dressed in an elegant manner).


swell (not generally comparable, comparative sweller, superlative swellest)

  1. (Canada, US, informal) Excellent.
    • 1931, Dashiell Hammett, The Glass Key, New York: Vintage, 1972, Chapter 9, p. 176,[5]
      Jeff swaggered over to Ned Beaumont, threw his left arm roughly around his shoulders, seized Ned Beaumont’s right hand with his right hand, and addressed the company jovially: “This is the swellest guy I ever skinned a knuckle on and I’ve skinned them on plenty.”
    • 1958, Robert A. Heinlein, Have Space Suit—Will Travel, New York: Ballantine Books, 1977, Chapter 1, p. 8,[6]
      [] we’re league champions in basketball and our square-dance team is state runner-up and we have a swell sock hop every Wednesday.
    • 2012, Ariel Levy, "The Space In Between", The New Yorker, 10 Sep 2012:
      Orgasms are swell, but they are not the remedy to every injustice.


swell (not comparable)

  1. (Canada, US, informal) Very well.
    • 1929, Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest, Chapter 12,[7]
      “That lousy ring wasn’t worth no grand. I did swell to get two centuries for it.”
    • 1966, Truman Capote, In Cold Blood, New York: Modern Library, 2013, Part 3, p. 251,[8]
      [] Last August, when I left The Walls, I figured I had every chance to start new. I got a job in Olathe, lived with my family, and stayed home nights. I was doing swell—”




swell m (plural swells)

  1. (surfing) swell (series of waves)