1 [mawr-ter]
a receptacle of hard material, having a bowl-shaped cavity in which substances are reduced to powder with a pestle.
any of various mechanical appliances in which substances are pounded or ground.
a cannon very short in proportion to its bore, for throwing shells at high angles.
some similar contrivance, as for throwing pyrotechnic bombs or a lifeline.
verb (used with object), verb (used without object)
to attack with mortar fire or shells.

before 1000; Middle English, Old English mortere and Old French mortier < Latin mortārium; in defs. 3, 4 translation of French mortier < Latin, as above; see -ar2 Unabridged


2 [mawr-ter]
a mixture of lime or cement or a combination of both with sand and water, used as a bonding agent between bricks, stones, etc.
any of various materials or compounds for bonding together bricks, stones, etc.: Bitumen was used as a mortar.
verb (used with object)
to plaster or fix with mortar.

1250–1300; Middle English morter < Anglo-French; Old French mortier mortar1, hence the mixture produced in it

mortarless, adjective
mortary, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
mortar (ˈmɔːtə)
1.  a mixture of cement or lime or both with sand and water, used as a bond between bricks or stones or as a covering on a wall
2.  a muzzle-loading cannon having a short barrel and relatively wide bore that fires low-velocity shells in high trajectories over a short range
3.  a similar device for firing lifelines, fireworks, etc
4.  a vessel, usually bowl-shaped, in which substances are pulverized with a pestle
5.  mining a cast-iron receptacle in which ore is crushed
6.  to join (bricks or stones) or cover (a wall) with mortar
7.  to fire on with mortars
8.  dialect (Midland English) to trample (on)
[C13: from Latin mortārium basin in which mortar is mixed; in some senses, via Old French mortier substance mixed inside such a vessel]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

"mixture of cement," late 13c., from O.Fr. mortier, from L. mortarium "mortar," also "crushed drugs," probably the same word as mortarium "bowl for mixing or pounding" (see mortar (2)).

"bowl for pounding," c.1300, from O.Fr. mortier, from L. mortarium "bowl for mixing or pounding," also "material prepared in it," of unknown origin and impossible now to determine which sense was original. O.E. had mortere, from the same L. source.

"short cannon," 1558, originally mortar-piece, from M.Fr. mortier "short cannon," from O.Fr. "bowl for mixing or pounding" (see mortar (2)). So called for its shape.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Medical Dictionary

mortar mor·tar (môr'tər)

  1. A vessel in which drugs or other substances are crushed or ground with a pestle.

  2. A machine in which materials are ground and blended or crushed.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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Bible Dictionary

Mortar definition

(Heb. homer), cement of lime and sand (Gen. 11:3; Ex. 1:14); also potter's clay (Isa. 41:25; Nah. 3:14). Also Heb. 'aphar, usually rendered "dust," clay or mud used for cement in building (Lev. 14:42, 45). Mortar for pulverizing (Prov. 27:22) grain or other substances by means of a pestle instead of a mill. Mortars were used in the wilderness for pounding the manna (Num. 11:8). It is commonly used in Palestine at the present day to pound wheat, from which the Arabs make a favourite dish called kibby.

Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases


see bricks and mortar.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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Example sentences
Convoys of carts loaded with bricks and mortar were arriving every day along
  dirt tracks.
Scientists also found no mortar on the corners or sides of the stone blocks.
But if throwing fancy-dress garden parties is your style, set the bricks in
  mortar on a concrete base.
When troops set up camp in areas of conflict, they face the threat of incoming
  mortar shells.
Idioms & Phrases
Image for Mortar
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