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Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English vitaile, vitaylle (food; food and drink, especially as needed for sustenance; (usually in the plural) food and drink stores or supplies; rations; provision of food and drink as a military stipend; crops) [and other forms],[1] from Anglo-Norman vitaile, vitaille [and other forms] and Old French vitaile, vitaille, victaille (food, provisions, victuals) [and other forms] (modern French victuaille), from Late Latin victuālia, the neuter plural of vīctuālis (nutritional), from Latin vīctus (that which sustains life, diet, nourishment, provision) + -ālis (suffix forming adjectives of relationship from nouns). Vīctus is derived from vīvō (to live; to be alive, survive; to reside in) (possibly ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *gʷeyh₃- (to live)) + -tus (suffix forming action nouns from verbs).[2]

The spelling of the modern English and French words has been influenced by Late Latin victuālia, though the pronunciation of the Middle English, Anglo-Norman, and Middle French words has been retained.[2]


victual (plural victuals)

  1. (archaic) Food fit for human (or occasionally animal) consumption.
  2. (archaic, chiefly in the plural) Food supplies; provisions.
    • 1603, Richard Knolles, “The First Kingdome of the Turks Erected in Persia by Tangrolipix, Chieftaine of the Selzuccian Family: With the Successe thereof”, in The Generall Historie of the Turkes, [], London: [] Adam Islip, OCLC 837543169, page 19:
      The citie was thus taken, many of the Turks fled into the caſtell, the reſt were put vnto the ſword, man, woman, and child; and amongſt them alſo many of the Chriſtians, the furious ſouldiers taking of them no knowledge. Great wealth was there found, but ſmall ſtore of victuals.
  3. (specifically, obsolete)
    1. Edible plants.
      • 1625, Francis Bacon, “Of Plantations. XXXIII.”, in The Essayes [], London: [] Iohn Haviland [], published 1632, OCLC 863527675, pages 199–200:
        [C]onſider, what Victuall or Eſculent Things there are, which grow ſpeedily, and within the yeere, As Parſnips, Carrets, Turnips, Onions, Radiſh, Artichokes of Hieruſalem, Maiz, and the like. [] The Victuall in Plantations, ought to be expanded, almoſt as in a Beſieged Towne; That is, with certaine Allowance.
    2. (Scotland) Grain of any kind.
      • 1785 September 13, Robert Burns; R[obert] H[artley] Cromek, compiler, “Epistles in Verse. To J. Lapraik.”, in Reliques of Robert Burns; Consisting Chiefly of Original Letters, Poems, and Critical Observations on Scottish Songs, London: [] J. M’Creery, for T[homas] Cadell, and W[illiam] Davies, [], published 1808, OCLC 3963942, page 391:
        But if the beast and branks be spar'd / Till kye be gaun without the herd, / An' a' the vittel in the yard, / An' theckit right, / I mean your ingle-side to guard / Ae winter night.
Alternative forms[edit]

Etymology 2[edit]

From Middle English vitailen (to provide (someone, a castle, a ship, etc., or oneself) with supplies of food, drink, or other needs; (figuratively) to load (a ship with troops and materiel); to fortify, nourish) [and other forms],[3] from Anglo-Norman vitailer, vitailler, and Old French vitailler, victuailler [and other forms], from vitaile, vitaille, victaille (food, provisions, victuals) (see further at etymology 1)[4] + -er (a variant of -ier (suffix forming infinitives of first conjugation verbs)).


victual (third-person singular simple present victuals, present participle victualing or victualling, simple past and past participle victualed or victualled) (archaic)

  1. (transitive, reflexive, chiefly military, nautical) To provide (military troops, a place, a ship, etc., or oneself) with a stock of victuals or food; to provision.
    • 1512, I. P. W., “Historical Sketches of British Commerce.—No. 3. A.D. 1400–1600.”, in The Sailor’s Magazine, volume 29, number 7, New York, N.Y.: The American Seamen’s Friend Society, [], published March 1857, OCLC 47807401, page 194, column 2:
      In 1512 an agreement was made between him [Henry VIII] and his admiral, Sir Edward Howard, which affords an interesting view of the manner in which fleets of war were then maintained. [] It was also stipulated that, "forasmuch as our Sovereign lord at his costs and charges victualeth the said army and navy, the said admiral shall therefore reserve for the king the one-half of all gains and winnings of the war, []"
    • c. 1598–1600, William Shakespeare, “As You Like It”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies: Published According to the True Originall Copies (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358, [Act V, scene iv], page 207, column 2:
      [T]hy louing voyage / Is but for two moneths victuall’d: []
    • 1625 July, Walter Yonge, George Roberts, editor, The Diary of Walter Yonge, Esq. [], Written at Colyton and Axminster, Co. Devon, from 1604 to 1628, London: Printed for the Camden Society, by J[ohn] B[oyer] Nichols and Son, [], published 1848, OCLC 655306680, page 85:
      Spinola [Ambrogio Spinola, 1st Marquess of Los Balbases] continueth in his trenches before Breda, and victualeth and strengtheneth Breda, which being done, it is thought he will besiege Bergen op Zoom.
    • 1681, Robert Knox; Edward Arber, compiler, “[Nineteen Years’ Captivity in the Kingdom of Conde Uda in the Highlands of Ceylon, [].] Concerning Some Other Nations, and Chiefly European that Now Live in the Island. The Portuguese and Dutch.”, in An English Garner: Ingatherings from Our History and Literature, volume I, London: [] E. Arber, [], published 15 November 1877, OCLC 1152800435, part II, stanza XXXIX, page 435:
      He victualleth his soldiers during the time they are upon the guard, either about the palace or abroad in the wars: whereas it is contrary in the King's country; for the Cingalese soldiers bear their own expenses.
    • 1683, J. S., “[A Discourse of Trade. [].] That the People and Territories of the King of England are Naturaly as Considerable for Wealth and Strength as Those of France.”, in The Present State of England. Part III. and Part IV. [], London: [] [R. Holt] for William Whitwood, [], OCLC 1181358302, part IV, page 59:
      I could here ſet down the very number of Acres that would bear Bread and Drink, Corn, together with Fleſh, Butter, and Cheeſe, ſufficient to Victual nine Millions of Perſons, as they are Victualled in Ships and regular Families; but I ſhall only ſay in general that 12,000,00. will do it, []
    • 1776 March 9, Adam Smith, “Of the Rent of Land”, in An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. [], volume I, London: [] W[illiam] Strahan; and T[homas] Cadell, [], OCLC 762139, book I (Of the Causes of Improvement in the Productive Powers of Labour, []), I (Of the Produce of Land which Always Affords Rent), page 189:
      It was then, among other proof to the ſame purpoſe, given in evidence by a Virginia merchant, that in March, 1763, he had victualled his ſhips for twenty-four or twenty-five ſhillings the hundred weight of beef, which he conſidered as the ordinary price; []
    • 1838, William H[ickling] Prescott, “War of Granada.—Conquest of Baza.—Submission of El Zagal. 1487–1489.”, in History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella. [], volume I, 3rd edition, New York, N.Y.: A[lbert] L[evi] Burt, OCLC 9068084, pages 308-309:
      These veterans were commissioned to defend the place to the last extremity; and, as due time had been given for preparation, the town was victualled for fifteen months' provisions, and even the crops growing in the vega had been garnered before their prime, to save them from the hands of the enemy.
  2. (intransitive, chiefly military, nautical) To lay in or procure food supplies.
    • 1568 April 13, William Drury, “Containing Matters of State from the Earl of Moray’s Acceptation of the Regency in the Month of August 1567, till the Queen’s Retreat into England in the Month of May 1568”, in Robert Keith; John Parker Lawson, editor, History of the Affairs of Church and State in Scotland, from the Beginning of the Reformation to the Year 1568. [], volume II, Edinburgh: [] [Alexander Laurie and Co.] for the Spottiswoode Society, published 1845, OCLC 1015512744, page 792:
      [Letter from Sir William Drury to Sir William Cecil, 3d April 1568 (Julian calendar).] The Lord Fleming [i.e., John Fleming, 5th Lord Fleming], notwithstanding he still victualleth and maketh provision, he hath offered three personages of as great livehood as himself to enter caution and surety unto the [James Stewart, 1st] Earl of Moray, that he shall only hold the place at the devotion and service of the young King, and to no other.
    • 1697, William Dampier, chapter IX, in A New Voyage Round the VVorld. [], London: [] James Knapton, [], OCLC 1179524264, page 260:
      For though we took a little Flower hard by, yet the ſame Guide which told us of that Ship would have conducted us where we might had ſtore of Beef and Maiz: but inſtead thereof we lost both our time and the opportunity of providing our ſelves, and ſo were forced to be victualling when we ſhould have been cruizing off Cape Corrientes in expectation of the Manila Ship.
    • 1779 March, “America”, in The Scots Magazine; or, General Repository of Literature, History, and Politics, volume XLI (volume , New Series), Edinburgh: [] A. Murray and J. Cochran, OCLC 810532611, pages 143–145:
      A letter from Lt.-Gen. [John] Burgoyne to Maj.-Gen. [William] Heath, Jan. 24. 1778. [] [T]he fleet was fully victualled for four months, for the whole of the land-army and ſeamen.
  3. (intransitive) To eat.
    • 1680, Tho[mas] Shadwell, The Woman-Captain: A Comedy [], London: [] Samuel Carr, [], OCLC 1179624060, Act II, page 20:
      I have Drank and Victual’d at Sir Humphrey’s for a Months Famine I am to endure here—I am hung round with Bottles and ſtuft full of Proviſion; will you eat a Pullet?
Alternative forms[edit]
Derived terms[edit]


  1. ^ vitaile, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  2. 2.0 2.1 victual, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1917; “victual, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–present.
  3. ^ vitailen, v.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  4. ^ victual, v.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1917; “victual, v.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–present.

Further reading[edit]