any large, stinging paper wasp of the family Vespidae, as Vespa crabro (giant hornet) introduced into the U.S. from Europe, or Vespula maculata (bald-faced hornet or white-faced hornet) of North America.

before 900; Middle English harnete, Old English hyrnet(u); cognate with Old High German hornaz (> German Horniss); akin to horn

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World English Dictionary
hornet (ˈhɔːnɪt)
1.  any of various large social wasps of the family Vespidae, esp Vespa crabro of Europe, that can inflict a severe sting
2.  hornet's nest a strongly unfavourable reaction (often in the phrase stir up a hornet's nest)
[Old English hyrnetu; related to Old Saxon hornut, Old High German hornuz]

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

O.E. hyrnetu, hurnitu "large wasp, beetle," probably from P.Gmc. base *khurz-nut- (cf. Du. horzel "hornet"), from PIE imitative (buzzing) root *krs-, as preserved in O.C.S. srusa, Lith. szirszu "wasp." On this theory, the Eng. word (as well as Ger. Hornisse) was altered by influence of horn, to suggest
either "horner" (from the sting) or "horn-blower" (from the buzz). Cf. also O.S. hornobero "hornet," lit. "trumpeter."
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Bible Dictionary

Hornet definition

Heb. tsir'ah, "stinging", (Ex. 23:28; Deut. 7:20; Josh. 24:12). The word is used in these passages as referring to some means by which the Canaanites were to be driven out from before the Israelites. Some have supposed that the word is used in a metaphorical sense as the symbol of some panic which would seize the people as a "terror of God" (Gen. 35:5), the consternation with which God would inspire the Canaanites. In Palestine there are four species of hornets, differing from our hornets, being larger in size, and they are very abundant. They "attack human beings in a very furious manner." "The furious attack of a swarm of hornets drives cattle and horses to madness, and has even caused the death of the animals."

Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases


see mad as a hornet; stir up a hornet's nest.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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Example sentences
As it does so, a hornet's nest of trouble will be found.
But the willow-wren sent down the hornet, with orders to get beneath the fox's
  tail, and sting it with all his might.
It's a hornet's nest up in the attic whose noise can be safely ignored.
Of course, who knows when that hornet's nest will come up for a vote.
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