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[eer-mahrk] /ˈɪərˌmɑrk/
any identifying or distinguishing mark or characteristic:
The mayor's statement had all the earmarks of dirty politics.
a mark of identification made on the ear of an animal to show ownership.
a provision in a piece of Congressional legislation that directs specified federal funds to specific projects, programs, organizations, or individuals:
Lawmakers requested almost 40,000 earmarks worth more than $100 billion directed to their home districts and states.
Compare pork barrel.
verb (used with object)
to set aside for a specific purpose, use, recipient, etc.:
to earmark goods for export.
to mark with an earmark.
Origin of earmark
1515-25; ear1 + mark1
Related forms
unearmarked, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for earmark
  • By the way you are seeing what non earmark action is all about--now progress is focused with out the goodie distractions.
  • Potential buyers can earmark a building, street or neighborhood they're interested in, and post offers online.
  • They often have a real estate interest in earmark projects.
  • Each earmark must be open to scrutiny at public hearings, where members will have to justify their expense to the taxpayer.
British Dictionary definitions for earmark


verb (transitive)
to set aside or mark out for a specific purpose
to make an identification mark on the ear of (a domestic animal)
a mark of identification on the ear of a domestic animal
any distinguishing mark or characteristic
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 earmark

late 15c., from ear (n.1) + mark (n.1). Originally a cut or mark in the ear of sheep and cattle, serving as a sign of ownership (also a punishment of certain criminals); first recorded 1570s in figurative sense "stamp of ownership."


1590s, "to identify by an earmark," from earmark (n.). Meaning "to set aside money for a special purpose" is attested by 1868. Related: Earmarked; earmarking.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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