Word of the Day


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Origin of the word

In the middle of the 14th century, maintenance was used to describe a person’s ‘deportment’, which in Britain usually refers to how a person stands or walks, and in North America describes their manners and how they behave. Derived from the original 12th century Old French verb ‘maintenir’, the word maintenance meant ‘shelter, protection’ and also ‘upkeep’ (1). By the late 14th century, the meaning had expanded to refer to ‘action taken to provide the necessities of life for a person’ (3) and from the early 15th century maintenance was in use in a more general sense, that is, not solely related to people, but more broadly ‘action taken to keep something in being or uphold it’ (2).


Work carried out to keep something functioning properly, such as a car or a computer, may be part of a regular maintenance programme (1).

“The bongs of Big Ben, the bell inside the clock tower above the Houses of Parliament, are to be silenced for four years for conservation works… Big Ben has marked the hour with almost unbroken service for 157 years, with the chimes last falling silent for maintenance in 2007. They also stopped between 1983 and 1985 as part of a refurbishment programme.” – Guardian, 14th August 2017: Big Ben to be silenced for four years for maintenance.

Actions taken by world leaders may be aimed at the maintenance of peace, for example in a country after there has been a war (2).

“It’s in all of our interests to forge an even closer relationship as we strive to maintain peace and security in Africa.” – Foreign & Commonwealth Office,12th September 2017: Statement by Ambassador Jonathan Allen, UK Deputy Permanent Representative, at the United Nations Security Council on African Union and UN Co-operation.

Maintenance funds awarded to students help them pay household bills and buy food (3).

“It wasn’t always this way. Until only recently, students from homes with an annual income of less than £25,000 were given maintenance grants of £3,387 to help fund their living costs while at university. Students from households above this threshold were also entitled to a grant, but the amount they could be awarded decreased in accordance with their family’s income.” – Guardian, 7th September 2017: Maintenance debt weighs on my mind as a poorer student.


1. work that is done to keep something, such as a building, machinery or piece of equipment in good condition
2. the process of continuing something or keeping it in existence
3. money that you pay to your ex-wife or ex-husband to help her or him and your children after you are divorced.

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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