[mawr-ter-bawrd, -bohrd]
a board, usually square, used by masons to hold mortar.
Also called cap. a cap with a close-fitting crown surmounted by a stiff, flat, square piece from which a tassel hangs, worn as part of academic costume.

1850–55; mortar2 + board Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
mortarboard (ˈmɔːtəˌbɔːd)
1.  a black tasselled academic cap with a flat square top covered with cloth
2.  Also called: hawk a small square board with a handle on the underside for carrying mortar

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

"academic cap," 1854, from mortar (1) + board (1); so called because it resembles a mason's square board for carrying mortar.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Example sentences
Tapper not only made appearances at civic events, he donned a mortarboard and became an online tutor for local schoolchildren.
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