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See also: Wash, WASH, Wash., -wash, and The Wash


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From Middle English wasshen, waschen, weschen, from Old English wasċan, from Proto-West Germanic *waskan, from Proto-Germanic *waskaną, *watskaną (to wash, get wet), from Proto-Indo-European *wed- (wet; water).

Cognate with Saterland Frisian waaske (to wash), West Frisian waskje (to wash), Dutch wassen, wasschen (to wash), Low German waschen (to wash), German waschen (to wash), Danish vaske (to wash), Norwegian Bokmål vaske (to wash), Swedish vaska (to wash), Icelandic vaska (to wash).



wash (third-person singular simple present washes, present participle washing, simple past washed, past participle washed or (archaic) washen)

  1. To clean with water.
    The car is so dirty, we need to wash it.
    Dishwashers wash dishes much more efficiently than most humans.
    • 1917, Lester Angell Round, Harold Locke Lang, Preservation of vegetables by fermentation and salting, page 9:
      Wash the vegetables, drain off the surplus water, and pack them in a keg, crock, or other utensil until it is nearly full
    • 1971, Homemaking Handbook: For Village Workers in Many Countries, page 101:
      If using celery or okra, wash the vegetables in safe water.
    • 2010, Catherine Abbott, The Everything Grow Your Own Vegetables Book: Your Complete Guide to planting, tending, and harvesting vegetables, Everything Books, →ISBN, page 215:
      Wash the vegetables thoroughly; even a little dirt can contain bacteria. Wash vegetables individually under running water.
  2. (transitive) To move or erode by the force of water in motion.
    Heavy rains wash a road or an embankment.
    The flood washed away houses.
  3. (mining) To separate valuable material (such as gold) from worthless material by the action of flowing water.
  4. (intransitive) To clean oneself with water.
    I wash every morning after getting up.
  5. (transitive) To cover with water or any liquid; to wet; to fall on and moisten.
    Waves wash the shore.
  6. (intransitive) To move with a lapping or swashing sound; to lap or splash.
    to hear the water washing
  7. (intransitive) To be eroded or carried away by the action of water.
  8. (intransitive, figuratively) To be cogent, convincing; to withstand critique.
    • 1988 April 16, Chris Bull, “PWA Group Struggles To Reach People of Color”, in Gay Community News, page 12:
      Laureano singled out for criticism several board members who resisted the creation of the MAC and who suggested instead that the board deal with "reverse discrimination." "That doesn't wash," said Laureano. "It's just a knee-jerk reaction to what we are trying to achieve."
    • 2012, The Economist, Oct 13th 2012 issue, The Jordan and its king: As beleaguered as ever
      The king is running out of ideas as well as cash. His favourite shock-absorbing tactic—to blame his governments and sack his prime ministers—hardly washes.
    • 2023 May 31, Nigel Harris, “Comment: GBR now! We have no Plan B”, in RAIL, number 984, page 3:
      Claims of a lack of parliamentary time don't wash.
  9. (intransitive) To bear without injury the operation of being washed.
    Some calicoes do not wash.
  10. (intransitive) To be wasted or worn away by the action of water, as by a running or overflowing stream, or by the dashing of the sea; said of road, a beach, etc.
  11. To cover with a thin or watery coat of colour; to tint lightly and thinly.
  12. To overlay with a thin coat of metal.
    steel washed with silver
  13. (transitive) To cause dephosphorization of (molten pig iron) by adding substances containing iron oxide, and sometimes manganese oxide.
  14. (transitive) To pass (a gas or gaseous mixture) through or over a liquid for the purpose of purifying it, especially by removing soluble constituents.

Usage notes[edit]

In older works and possibly still in some dialects, wesh and woosh may be found as past tense forms. Washen may be found as a past participle.

Derived terms[edit]


  • Swazi: washa



wash (countable and uncountable, plural washes)

A drawing and wash by Samuel Wallis entitled York Island (c. 1767)
  1. The process or an instance of washing or being washed by water or other liquid.
    I'm going to have a quick wash before coming to bed.
    My jacket needs a wash.
  2. A liquid used for washing.
  3. A lotion or other liquid with medicinal or hygienic properties.
    mouth wash
    hand wash
  4. The quantity of clothes washed at a time.
    There's a lot in that wash: maybe you should split it into two piles.
  5. (art) A smooth and translucent painting created using a paintbrush holding a large amount of solvent and a small amount of paint.
  6. The breaking of waves on the shore; the onwards rush of shallow water towards a beach.
    I could hear the wash of the wave.
    • 1924, Herman Melville, chapter 16, in Billy Budd[2], London: Constable & Co.:
      [] the wind in the cordage and the wash of the sea helped the more to put them beyond earshot []
    • 1938, Norman Lindsay, Age of Consent, 1st Australian edition, Sydney, N.S.W.: Ure Smith, published 1962, →OCLC, page 192:
      Bradly posed Cora against the incessantly moving patterns of the wash and set to work with nervous haste, alarmed at the difficult problem of water in movement.
  7. The bow wave, wake, or vortex of an object moving in a fluid, in particular:
    1. The bow wave or wake of a moving ship, or the vortex from its screws.
      The ship left a big wash
      Sail away from the wash to avoid rocking the boat.
      • 2003, Guidelines for Managing Wake Wash from High-speed Vessels: Report of Working Group 41 of the Maritime Navigation Commission, PIANC, →ISBN, page 5:
        To date, much of the research undertaken on high-speed vessel wake wash has appeared only as unpublished reports for various authorities and management agencies.
    2. The turbulence left in the air by a moving airplane.
    3. The backward current or disturbed water caused by the action of oars, or of a steamer's screw or paddles, etc.
  8. (nautical) The blade of an oar.
  9. Ground washed away to the sea or a river.
    • 1707, J[ohn] Mortimer, The Whole Art of Husbandry; or, The Way of Managing and Improving of Land. [], 2nd edition, London: [] J[ohn] H[umphreys] for H[enry] Mortlock [], and J[onathan] Robinson [], published 1708, →OCLC:
      The wash of pastures, fields, commons, and roads, [] where rain water hath a long time settled.
  10. A piece of ground washed by the action of water, or sometimes covered and sometimes left dry; the shallowest part of a river, or arm of the sea; also, a bog; a marsh.
  11. A shallow body of water.
  12. In arid and semi-arid regions, the normally dry bed of an intermittent or ephemeral stream; an arroyo or wadi.
    Hyponyms: Black Mesa Wash, Chinle Wash, Dinnebito Wash, Moenkopi Wash, Oljato Wash, Oraibi Wash, Pacoima Wash, Polacca Wash, Tujunga Wash, Wepo Wash
    • 1997, Stanley Desmond Smith, et al. Physiological Ecology of North American Desert Plants, Nature
      In some desert-wash systems (which have been termed “xero-riparian”)
    • 1999, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert:
      ...though the wash may carry surface water for only a few hours a year.
    • 2005, Le Hayes, Pilgrims in the Desert: The Early History of the East Mojave Desert:
      Rock Spring Wash continues a short distance then joins Watson Wash. Water from Rock Spring comes out of the boulder strewn wash and disappears into the sand
  13. A situation in which losses and gains or advantages and disadvantages are equivalent; a situation in which there is no net change.
    • 2003, David Brenner, I Think There's a Terrorist in My Soup, page 100:
      I knew that for every vote I cast for, say, the Republicans, some kid at a polling place nearby was casting his votes for the Democrats, so it was probably a wash or close to it.
  14. (finance, slang) A fictitious kind of sale of stock or other securities between parties of one interest, or by a broker who is both buyer and seller, and who minds his own interest rather than that of his clients.
  15. Waste liquid, the refuse of food, the collection from washed dishes, etc., from a kitchen, often used as food for pigs; pigwash.
  16. In distilling, the fermented wort before the spirit is extracted.
  17. A mixture of dunder, molasses, water, and scummings, used in the West Indies for distillation.
    • 1793, Bryan Edwards, History, Civil and Commercial, of the British Colonies in the West Indies:
      In order to augment the vinosity of the wash, many substances are recommended by Dr. Shaw, such as tartar, nitre, common salt, and the vegetable or mineral acids.
  18. A thin coat of paint or metal laid on anything for beauty or preservation.
  19. Ten strikes, or bushels, of oysters.
  20. (architecture) The upper surface of a member or material when given a slope to shed water; hence, a structure or receptacle shaped so as to receive and carry off water.
    a carriage wash in a stable
  21. (television) A lighting effect that fills a scene with a chosen colour.
  22. (stagecraft) A lighting fixture that can cast a wide beam of light to evenly fill an area with light, as opposed to a spotlight.


Derived terms[edit]


See also[edit]

  • WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene)


  1. ^ Jespersen, Otto (1909) A Modern English Grammar on Historical Principles (Sammlung germanischer Elementar- und Handbücher; 9)‎[1], volume I: Sounds and Spellings, London: George Allen & Unwin, published 1961, § 10.94, page 317.