1 [spel]
verb (used with object), spelled or spelt, spelling.
to name, write, or otherwise give the letters, in order, of (a word, syllable, etc.): Did I spell your name right?
(of letters) to form (a word, syllable, etc.): The letters spelled a rather rude word.
to read letter by letter or with difficulty (often followed by out ): She painfully spelled out the message.
to discern or find, as if by reading or study (often followed by out ).
to signify; amount to: This delay spells disaster for us.
verb (used without object), spelled or spelt, spelling.
to name, write, or give the letters of words, syllables, etc.: He spells poorly.
to express words by letters, especially correctly.
Verb phrases
spell down, to outspell others in a spelling match.
spell out,
to explain something explicitly, so that the meaning is unmistakable: Must I spell it out for you?
to write out in full or enumerate the letters of which a word is composed: The title “Ph.D.” is seldom spelled out.

1250–1300; Middle English spellen < Old French espeller < Germanic; compare Old English spellian to talk, announce (derivative of spell spell2), Old High German -spellōn, Old Norse spjalla, Gothic spillōn

spellable, adjective
unspellable, adjective

5. foretell, portend, mean, promise.
Dictionary.com Unabridged


2 [spel]
a word, phrase, or form of words supposed to have magic power; charm; incantation: The wizard cast a spell.
a state or period of enchantment: She was under a spell.
any dominating or irresistible influence; fascination: the spell of fine music.

before 900; Middle English spell, Old English: discourse; cognate with Old High German spel, Old Norse spjall, Gothic spill tale; see spell1, gospel

spellful, adjective
spell-like, adjective


3 [spel]
a continuous course or period of work or other activity: to take a spell at the wheel.
a turn of work so taken.
a turn, bout, fit, or period of anything experienced or occurring: a spell of coughing.
an indefinite interval or space of time: Come visit us for a spell.
a period of weather of a specified kind: a hot spell.
Australian. a rest period.
Archaic. a person or set of persons taking a turn of work to relieve another.
verb (used with object)
to take the place of for a time; relieve: Let me spell you at the wheel.
Australian. to declare or give a rest period to.
verb (used without object)
Australian. to have or take a rest period.

1585–95; (v.) alteration of earlier spele to stand instead of, relieve, spare, Middle English spelen, Old English spelian; akin to Old English spala, gespelia a substitute; (noun) akin to the v. (perhaps continuing Old English gespelia)

4. while, bit, piece.
Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
spell1 (spɛl)
vb , spells, spelling, spelt, spelled
1.  to write or name in correct order the letters that comprise the conventionally accepted form of (a word or part of a word)
2.  (tr) (of letters) to go to make up the conventionally established form of (a word) when arranged correctly: d-o-g spells dog
3.  (tr) to indicate or signify: such actions spell disaster for our cause
[C13: from Old French espeller, of Germanic origin; related to Old Norse spialla to talk, Middle High German spellen]

spell2 (spɛl)
1.  a verbal formula considered as having magical force
2.  any influence that can control the mind or character; fascination
3.  a state induced by or as if by the pronouncing of a spell; trance: to break the spell
4.  under a spell held in or as if in a spell
5.  rare (tr) to place under a spell
[Old English spell speech; related to Old Norse spjall tale, Gothic spill, Old High German spel]

spell3 (spɛl)
1.  an indeterminate, usually short, period of time: a spell of cold weather
2.  a period or tour of duty after which one person or group relieves another
3.  (Scot), (Austral), (NZ) a period or interval of rest
4.  (tr) to take over from (a person) for an interval of time; relieve temporarily
5.  (NZ) spell a paddock to give a field a rest period by letting it lie fallow
[Old English spelian to take the place of, of obscure origin]

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

"name the letters of," O.E. spellian "to tell, speak," infl. by O.Fr. espeller "declare, spell," from Frank. *spellon "to tell;" both O.E. and Frank. from P.Gmc. *spellan (cf. O.H.G. spellon "to tell," O.N. spjalla, Goth. spillon "to talk, tell"), from PIE *spel- "to say aloud, recite." Meaning "write
or say the letters of a word" is c.1400, from notion of "read letter by letter, read with difficulty" (c.1300). Spell out "explain step-by-step" is first recorded 1940, Amer.Eng. Spelling bee is from 1878 (earlier simply spelling, 1860).

"incantation, charm," O.E. spell "story, speech," from P.Gmc. *spellan (cf. O.N. spjall, O.H.G. spel, Goth. spill "report, discourse, tale;" Ger. Beispiel "example;" see spell (v.1)). Meaning "set of words with magical powers, incantation, charm" first recorded 1579. Spellbound
is attested from 1799, from bound "fastened."
"The term 'spell' is generally used for magical procedures which cause harm, or force people to do something against their will -- unlike charms for healing, protection, etc." ["Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore"]

"work in place of (another)," O.E. spelian "to take the place of," related to gespelia "substitute," of uncertain origin. Perhaps related to spilian "to play" (see spiel). The noun meaning "indefinite period of time" first recorded 1706.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Computing Dictionary

spell definition


The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, © Denis Howe 2010 http://foldoc.org
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases


In addition to the idiom beginning with spell, also see cold snap (spell); under someone's spell.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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Encyclopedia Britannica


words uttered in a set formula with magical intent. The correct recitation, often with accompanying gestures, is considered to unleash supernatural power. Some societies believe that incorrect recitation can not only nullify the magic but cause the death of the practitioner.

Learn more about spell with a free trial on Britannica.com.

Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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Example sentences
His team found that over their study period, geyser intervals got longer as the
  park went into a prolonged dry spell.
The verbiage devoted to the denigration of spell check could fill a dictionary.
The easterners have learned, mostly, to spell western names properly.
But they sometimes disappear for weeks, diving more than a mile down and
  resting in the chilly deep for a spell.
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