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[brit-l] /ˈbrɪt l/
adjective, brittler, brittlest.
having hardness and rigidity but little tensile strength; breaking readily with a comparatively smooth fracture, as glass.
easily damaged or destroyed; fragile; frail:
a brittle marriage.
lacking warmth, sensitivity, or compassion; aloof; self-centered:
a self-possessed, cool, and rather brittle person.
having a sharp, tense quality:
a brittle tone of voice.
unstable or impermanent; evanescent.
a confection of melted sugar, usually with nuts, brittle when cooled:
peanut brittle.
verb (used without object), brittled, brittling.
to be or become brittle; crumble.
1350-1400; Middle English britel, equivalent to brit- (akin to Old English brysten fragment) + -el adj. suffix
Related forms
brittleness, noun
unbrittle, adjective
unbrittleness, noun
Can be confused
brittle, fragile, frail (see synonym study at frail)
1. fragile. See frail1 . Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for brittle
  • This part of the mountain was covered in very fragile, brittle lava.
  • This warmly spiced brittle also makes a crunchy garnish for a holiday pumpkin pie.
  • It is best to bake and assemble the confection shortly before it is to be served, so that the caramel will remain brittle.
  • These rigid, brittle people didn't start out that way.
  • The grass is brittle, stubby, overgrazed.
  • The thick, rich hot chocolate is especially intriguing with bizarre but wonderful flavors like peanut brittle and pepper.
  • The brittle-looking steering wheel had just enough "give" that it was pleasant to grip.
  • Current solar cells are largely made of silicon wafers, an expensive and brittle material.
  • The two dishes are prepared by layering ingredients and result in an array of brittle and delicate textures.
  • People who are bedridden for months at a time may develop brittle bones and become weak as their muscles wither with inactivity.
British Dictionary definitions for brittle


easily cracked, snapped, or broken; fragile
curt or irritable: a brittle reply
hard or sharp in quality
a crunchy sweet made with treacle and nuts: peanut brittle
Derived Forms
brittlely, brittly, adverb
Word Origin
C14: from Old English brytel (unattested); related to brytsen fragment, brēotan to break
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for brittle

late 14c., britel, perhaps from an unrecorded Old English adjective *brytel, related to brytan "to crush, pound, to break to pieces," from Proto-Germanic stem *brutila- "brittle," from *breutan "to break up" (cf. Old Norse brjota "to break," Old High German brodi "fragile"), and related to bruise (v.). With -le, suffix forming adjectives with meaning "liable to."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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brittle in Science
Having a tendency to break when subject to high stress. Brittle materials have undergone very little strain when they reach their elastic limit, and tend to break at that limit. Compare ductile.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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brittle in Technology

Said of software that is functional but easily broken by changes in operating environment or configuration, or by any minor tweak to the software itself. Also, any system that responds inappropriately and disastrously to abnormal but expected external stimuli; e.g. a file system that is usually totally scrambled by a power failure is said to be brittle. This term is often used to describe the results of a research effort that were never intended to be robust, but it can be applied to commercially developed software, which displays the quality far more often than it ought to.
Opposite of robust.
[Jargon File]

The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, © Denis Howe 2010
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