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From Middle English wacche word, wacchworde, morphologically as watch (guard, sentinel, sentry) +‎ word.


  • IPA(key): /ˈwɒt͡ʃwɜː(ɹ)d/
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watchword (plural watchwords)

  1. A word used as a motto, as expressive of a principle, belief, or rule of action; a rallying cry.
    Synonyms: catchword, byword, maxim, mantra, motto
    • 1834, L[etitia] E[lizabeth] L[andon], chapter XXVII, in Francesca Carrara. [], volume I, London: Richard Bentley, [], (successor to Henry Colburn), →OCLC, page 321:
      "How this perpetual gaiety," exclaimed Louis, "jars upon the ear! Good Heaven! is farewell to be said so gladly? I sometimes start when I think upon the hollowness of all that surrounds me. I often wish my eye had the power of searching the inmost depths of the bosoms whose watchword is my name."
    • 1871, “Forward! Be Our Watchword”, Henry Alford (lyrics), Henry Thomas Smart (music)‎[1]:
      For-ward! be our watchword, Steps and voices joined; / Seek the things before us, Not a look behind.
    • 1919, Boris Sidis, The Source and Aim of Human Progress[2]:
      Atrocities of the most vicious kind were justified by the watchwords: "This is war!" "Might is Right." "Necessity knows no law."
    • 1945 May, Harry S. Truman, Announcement of Germany's Surrender[3]:
      We can repay the debt which we owe to our God, to our dead, and to our children only by work — by ceaseless devotion to the responsibilities which lie ahead of us. If I could give you a single watchword for the coming months, that word is: work, work, and more work.
    • 1994, Tori Amos (lyrics and music), “Cornflake Girl”, in Under the Pink:
      It's a peel out the watchword / Just peel out the watchword
    • 2019 October, James Abbott, “Esk Valley revival”, in Modern Railways, page 76:
      The Esk Valley route to Whitby was a classic example: a basic four trains a day service has persisted for decades, with economy the watchword.
  2. (military, security) A prearranged reply to the challenge of a sentry or a guard; a password or signal by which friends can be known from enemies.
    Synonyms: passphrase, password, underword
    • 1625, George Sandys, Sacrae heptades:
      a Watchword sufficient for him that is wiſe


Further reading[edit]