Botany. the soft, spongy central cylinder of parenchymatous tissue in the stems of dicotyledonous plants.
Zoology. the soft inner part of a feather, a hair, etc.
the important or essential part; essence; core; heart: the pith of the matter.
significant weight; substance; solidity: an argument without pith.
Archaic. spinal cord or bone marrow.
Archaic. strength, force, or vigor; mettle: men of pith.
verb (used with object)
to remove the pith from (plants).
to destroy the spinal cord or brain of.
to slaughter, as cattle, by severing the spinal cord.

before 900; Middle English; Old English pitha; cognate with Dutch pit. See pit2

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Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
pith (pɪθ)
1.  the soft fibrous tissue lining the inside of the rind in fruits such as the orange and grapefruit
2.  the essential or important part, point, etc
3.  weight; substance
4.  botany Also called: medulla the central core of unspecialized cells surrounded by conducting tissue in stems
5.  the soft central part of a bone, feather, etc
6.  to destroy the brain and spinal cord of (a laboratory animal) by piercing or severing
7.  to kill (animals) by severing the spinal cord
8.  to remove the pith from (a plant)
[Old English pitha; compare Middle Low German pedik, Middle Dutch pitt(e)]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin & History

O.E. piþa "pith of plants," also "essential part," from W.Gmc. *pithan- (cf. M.Du. pitte, E.Fris. pit), a Low Ger. root of uncertain origin. Figurative sense was in O.E. The verb meaning "to kill by piercing the spinal cord" is from 1805. Pith helmet (1889, earlier pith hat, 1884) so called because
it is made from the dried pith of the Bengal spongewood.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Medical Dictionary

pith (pĭth)

  1. The soft inner substance of a hair.

  2. Spinal cord or bone marrow. No longer in technical use.

v. pithed, pith·ing, piths
To sever or destroy the spinal cord of a vertebrate animal, usually by means of a needle inserted into the vertebral canal.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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American Heritage
Science Dictionary
pith   (pĭth)  Pronunciation Key 
Noun   The soft, spongy tissue in the center of the stems of most flowering plants, gymnosperms, and ferns. Pith is composed of parenchyma cells. In plants that undergo secondary growth, such as angiosperms, the pith is surrounded by the vascular tissues and is gradually compressed by the inward growth of the vascular tissue known as xylem. In plants with woody stems, the pith dries out and often disintegrates as the plant grows older, leaving the stem hollow. See illustration at xylem.

  1. To remove the pith from a plant stem.

  2. To sever or destroy the spinal cord of an animal for the purpose of dissecting it, usually by inserting a needle into the spinal canal.

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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Example sentences
Remove as much of the white membrane or pith as possible.
Imagine you are the kind of guy who owns a pith helmet.
Cut away all skin and white pith from oranges, down to the flesh.
They learn to extract the pith from the spine-defended inedible stem.
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