Word of the Day


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1. overlapping in sequence, with overlapping edges, for example like shingles on a roof or the scales of a fish

Origin of the word

First used in its modern form in the 17th century, the word imbricate comes from the Latin ‘imbricatus’ which means ‘covered with tiles’ and is the past participle of the Latin verb ‘imbricare’, which means ‘to cover with rain tiles’.


Buildings, objects, plants and creatures which can be described as imbricate feature overlapping parts which often make up a uniform pattern. The tips of vegetables like asparagus or artichokes are imbricate, as are pine cones and the scales of a fish. In architecture, a roof that is covered with slates or tiles which form an overlapping cover are said to be imbricate. The word is also used to refer to ideas, concepts or works of art which have similarities – these shared reference points are imbricate.

Just as Latin is the original language for many modern English words like imbricate, each plant and animal has a two-word Latin name which describes the genus and species it belongs to. The Latin name of the Atlantic Hawksbill Turtle is Eretmochelys imbricata. This refers to the bony external plates which cover the turtle’s shell or carapace. These shielding scales overlap each other, providing further protection for the animal’s soft body inside.


“It is a moderate sized tree, and was introduced into Britain in 1596. In its native country, it attains a height of about 50 feet. The leaves are small and imbricate, and are borne on flattened branches, which are apt to be mistaken for the leaves. When bruised the leaves give out an aromatic odour.”
(Tree of Life, Encyclopaedia Britannica 1911)


overlay, overlap, envelop

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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