• Person


    • GenAm enPR: pûrʹsən, IPA: /ˈpɝsən/
    • RP IPA: /ˈpɜːsən/
    • Rhymes: -ɜː(ɹ)sən
    • Hyphenation: per + son


    From Anglo-Norman parsone, persoun et al. (Old French persone ("human being"), French personne), and its source Latin persōna ("mask used by actor; role, part, character"),perhaps a loanword; compare Etruscan φersu ("mask"). Displaced native wight (from Old English wiht ("person, human being")).

    Full definition of person



    (plural persons or people)
    (by suppletion)
    1. An individual; usually a human being. from 13th c.
      • 1784, William Jones, The Description and Use of a New Portable Orrery, &c., PREFACETHE favourable reception the Orrery has met with from Perſons of the firſt diſtinction, and from Gentlemen and Ladies in general, has induced me to add to it ſeveral new improvements in order to give it a degree of Perfection; and diſtinguiſh it from others; which by Piracy, or Imitation, may be introduced to the Public.
      • 1918, W. B. Maxwell, The Mirror and the Lamp Chapter 7, “A very welcome, kind, useful present, that means to the parish. By the way, Hopkins, let this go no further. We don't want the tale running round that a rich person has arrived. Churchill, my dear fellow, we have such greedy sharks, and wolves in lamb's clothing. 
    2. Each person is unique, both mentally and physically.
    3. The physical body of a being seen as distinct from the mind, character etc. from 14th c.
      • 1621, Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy, III.1.2.iii:when the young ladies laughed at her for it, she replied, that it was not his person that she did embrace and reverence, but, with a Platonic love, the divine beauty of his soul.
      • 1897, Henry James, What Maisie Knew:The Captain, inclining his military person, sat sideways to be closer and kinder ....
      • 1978, Lawrence Durrell, Livia, Faber & Faber 1992 Avignon Quintet, p. 418:At first blush it seemed that what was striking about him rested on the fact that his dress was exotic, his person foreign.
      • 2004, New York Times:Meanwhile, the dazed Sullivan, dressed like a bum with no identification on his person, is arrested and put to work on a brutal Southern chain gang.
    4. A character or part, as in a play; a specific kind or manifestation of individual character, whether in real life, or in literary or dramatic representation; an assumed character.
      • Francis Baconhis first appearance upon the stage in his new person of a sycophant or juggler
      • Jeremy TaylorNo man can long put on a person and act a part.
      • MiltonTo bear rule, which was thy part
        And person, hadst thou known thyself aright.
      • SouthHow different is the same man from himself, as he sustains the person of a magistrate and that of a friend!
    5. (legal) Any individual or formal organization with standing before the courts. from 14th c.By common law a corporation or a trust is legally a person.
    6. (legal) The human genitalia; specifically, the penis.
      • 1824, Vagrancy Act 1824 (5 Geo. 4. c. 83, United Kingdom), section 4:Every Person wilfully, openly, lewdly, and obscenely exposing his Person in any Street, Road, or public Highway, or in the View thereof, or in any Place of public Resort, with Intent to insult any Female ... and being subsequently convicted of the Offence for which he or she shall have been so apprehended, shall be deemed a Rogue and Vagabond, within the true Intent and Meaning of this Act ...
      • 1972, Evans v. Ewels, Weekly Law Reports, vol. 1, p. 671 at pp. 674–675:It seems to me that at any rate today, and indeed by 1824, the word "person" in connection with sexual matters had acquired a meaning of its own; a meaning which made it a synonym for "penis." It may be ... that it was the forerunner of Victorian gentility which prevented people calling a penis a penis. But however that may be I am satisfied in my own mind that it has now acquired an established meaning to the effect already stated. It is I venture to say, well known amongst those who practise in the courts that the word "person" is so used over and over again. It is the familiar synonym of that part of the body, and, as one of the reasons for my decision in this case, I would use that interpretation of what was prevailing in 1824 and what has become established in the 150 years since then.
    7. (grammar) A linguistic category used to distinguish between the speaker of an utterance and those to whom or about whom he is speaking. See grammatical person. from 14th c.
    8. (in a compound noun or noun phrase) Someone who likes or has an affinity for (a specified thing). from 20th c.Jack's always been a dog person, but I prefer cats.
    9. (chiefly in science fiction) Any sentient or socially intelligent being.
    10. (Christianity) Any one of the three hypostases of the Holy Trinity: the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit.
      • Book of Common Prayerthree persons and one God
    11. (biology) A shoot or bud of a plant; a polyp or zooid of the compound Hydrozoa, Anthozoa, etc.; also, an individual, in the narrowest sense, among the higher animals.
      • Encyc. Brit.True corms, composed of united personae ... usually arise by gemmation, ... yet in sponges and corals occasionally by fusion of several originally distinct persons.

    Usage notes

    In senses 1, 7, and 8, the plural is either persons or people, with persons sounding more formal and people more colloquial. In senses 2, 4, 6, and 9 persons is the only plural.



    1. (obsolete, transitive) To represent as a person; to personify; to impersonate.
    2. (transitive, humorous, gender-neutral) To man.
      • 2007, Brian R. Brenner, Don't Throw This Away!: The Civil Engineering Life (page 40)We had hit the iceberg, and it was time to person the lifeboats.
      • 2008, William Guy, Something Sensational (page 337)We went so far as to stop in a hotel on the way out of Speyer — to ask for directions — but the teenaged girl personing the desk there seemed to be such an idiot...


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