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[kur-nl] /ˈkɜr nl/
an officer in the U.S. Army, Air Force, or Marine Corps ranking between lieutenant colonel and brigadier general: corresponding to a captain in the U.S. Navy.
a commissioned officer of similar rank in the armed forces of some other nations.
an honorary title bestowed by some Southern states, as to those who have brought honor to the state, prominent businesspersons, visiting celebrities, or the like:
When the vice president visited the state he was made a Kentucky colonel.
Older Use. (in the South) a title of respect prefixed to the name of distinguished elderly men.
1540-50; < Middle French < Italian colon(n)ello = colonn(a) column + -ello < Latin -ellus diminutive suffix; so named because such an officer orig. headed the first column or company of a regiment
Related forms
colonelcy, noun
Pronunciation note
[kur-nl] /ˈkɜr nl/ (Show IPA)
with its medial l pronounced as [r] /r/ illustrates one source for the apparent vagaries of English spelling: divergence between a word's orthographic development and its established pronunciation. In this case, English borrowed from French two variant forms of the same word, one pronounced with medial and final [l] /l/ and a second reflecting dissimilation of the first [l] /l/ to [r] /r/ . After a period of competition, the dissimilated form triumphed in pronunciation, while the spelling colonel became the orthographic standard. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for colonel
  • Somehow orders from the colonel who approved our mission have been misinterpreted.
  • The spirits were always purchased by the colonel and a committee of majors.
  • The colonel's snipers and artillery are fiercely defending the town, as casualties mount on both sides.
  • So let it be said immediately and affectionately that the colonel is a wonderful old warhorse.
  • Trim and dark-eyed, the lieutenant colonel knows his tech.
  • His demonstration succeeded and he returned to active duty as a full colonel.
  • My translator interjected, pleading with the colonel not to shoot.
  • colonel dade, who was on horseback, was the first to be killed.
British Dictionary definitions for colonel


an officer of land or air forces junior to a brigadier but senior to a lieutenant colonel
Derived Forms
colonelcy, colonelship, noun
Word Origin
C16: via Old French, from Old Italian colonnello column of soldiers, from colonnacolumn
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 colonel

1540s, coronell, from Middle French coronel (16c.), modified by dissimilation from Italian colonnella "commander of a column of soldiers at the head of a regiment," from compagna colonella "little column company," from Latin columna "pillar" (see hill). English spelling modified 1580s in learned writing to conform with the Italian form (via translations of Italian military manuals), and pronunciations with "r" and "l" coexisted 17c.-18c., but the earlier pronunciation prevailed. Spanish coronel, from Italian, shows a similar evolution by dissimilation.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for colonel


Related Terms

chicken colonel, light colonel

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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Encyclopedia Article for colonel

the highest field-grade officer, ranking just below the general officer grades in most armies or below brigadier in the British services. A colonel was traditionally the commanding officer of a regiment or brigade. In air forces that use the same titles of rank as the army, such as the U.S. Air Force, a colonel's command is usually a group; the comparable grade in the Royal Air Force is group captain. When not exercising command of a regiment, group, or equivalent formation, a colonel is generally placed in a senior staff or administrative post

Learn more about colonel with a free trial on
Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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