Word of the Day


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


1. to frighten or hurt someone who is smaller or weaker than you

2. to use your influence or status to threaten or frighten someone

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary

Origin and usage

The noun bully entered the English language in the 16th century as a term of endearment, though its origin is uncertain. It was first used with the current meaning in the 17th century, while the verb dates from the early 18th century.


This week is Anti-Bullying Week, organized by the Anti-Bullying Alliance. This year’s theme is ‘United Against Bullying‘ and children and adults are invited to mark the start of the week by wearing odd socks to school or work. While the stereotype of the bully  is a larger child picking on a smaller one, bullying can affect adults as well as children and is by no means limited to physical intimidation. Bully occurs in some compounds and phrases as well as in a phrasal verb. A bully boy is someone who uses threats or violence to get what they want. A bully pulpit is a position in the public eye that allows someone to give their opinions and be listened to, regardless of the merit of those opinions. The expression is said to have originated with the US President Theodore Roosevelt, who referred to the presidency in this way. The British phrasal verb bully off means to start a game of hockey (field hockey in US English) by hitting the opposing player’s stick and then the ground three times before hitting the ball. Bully has a different origin here, as it comes from the noun bully that refers to this procedure, again of obscure origin. The informal expression bully for you is one of those that seem to express approval while in fact suggesting the opposite.


You know, you don’t have to be the loser kid in high school to be bullied. Bullying and being picked on comes in so many different forms.
(Lady Gaga)

Children should be able to live a life free from bullying and harassment and it is time that we all took a stand against this.
(Katherine Jenkins)

Related Words

cow, intimidate, gang up on, browbeat, coerce

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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