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[awr-fuh n] /ˈɔr fən/
a child who has lost both parents through death, or, less commonly, one parent.
a young animal that has been deserted by or has lost its mother.
a person or thing that is without protective affiliation, sponsorship, etc.:
The committee is an orphan of the previous administration.
  1. (especially in word processing) the first line of a paragraph when it appears alone at the bottom of a page.
  2. widow (def 3b).
bereft of parents.
of or for orphans:
an orphan home.
not authorized, supported, or funded; not part of a system; isolated; abandoned:
an orphan research project.
lacking a commercial sponsor, an employer, etc.:
orphan workers.
verb (used with object)
to deprive of parents or a parent through death:
He was orphaned at the age of four.
Informal. to deprive of commercial sponsorship, an employer, etc.:
The recession has orphaned many experienced workers.
Origin of orphan
late Middle English
1425-75; late Middle English (noun) < Late Latin orphanus destitute, without parents < Greek orphanós bereaved; akin to Latin orbus bereaved
Related forms
orphanhood, noun
half-orphan, noun
unorphaned, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for orphans
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • If people want to know about us, send them to me—or simply say we are orphans, father and mother both dead.

    The Cottage of Delight Will N. Harben
  • Why save women and children if you are going to make widows and orphans of them?

    My Double Life Sarah Bernhardt
  • Let the tears which fell, and the broken words which were exchanged in the long close embrace between the orphans, be sacred.

  • Why, the cause of the widow and orphans of this unfortunate Mabey.

    Scaramouche Rafael Sabatini
  • The author being assured that they were orphans, promised, after some conversation, to visit their tent the following day.

    The Gipsies' Advocate James Crabb
British Dictionary definitions for orphans


  1. a child, one or (more commonly) both of whose parents are dead
  2. (as modifier): an orphan child
(printing) the first line of a paragraph separated from the rest of the paragraph by occurring at the foot of a page
(transitive) to deprive of one or both parents
Word Origin
C15: from Late Latin orphanus, from Greek orphanos; compare Latin orbus bereaved
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 orphans



c.1300, from Late Latin orphanus "parentless child" (source of Old French orfeno, Italian orfano), from Greek orphanos "orphaned, without parents, fatherless," literally "deprived," from orphos "bereft," from PIE *orbho- "bereft of father," also "deprived of free status," from root *orbh- "to change allegiance, to pass from one status to another" (cf. Hittite harb- "change allegiance," Latin orbus "bereft," Sanskrit arbhah "weak, child," Armenian orb "orphan," Old Irish orbe "heir," Old Church Slavonic rabu "slave," rabota "servitude" (cf. robot), Gothic arbja, German erbe, Old English ierfa "heir," Old High German arabeit, German Arbeit "work," Old Frisian arbed, Old English earfoð "hardship, suffering, trouble"). As an adjective from late 15c.


1814, from orphan (n.). Related: Orphaned; orphaning.

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



A model of a car, boat, computer, etc, which is no longer being manufactured, and for which spare parts are hard to find (1940s+)

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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orphans in the Bible

(Lam. 5:3), i.e., desolate and without protectors. The word occurs only here. In John 14:18 the word there rendered "comfortless" (R.V., "desolate;" marg., "orphans") properly means "orphans." The same Greek word is rendered "fatherless" in James 1:27.

Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary
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