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[preen] /prin/
verb (used with object)
(of animals, especially birds) to trim or dress (feathers, fur, etc.) with the beak or tongue:
The peacock preened itself on the lawn.
to dress (oneself) carefully or smartly; primp:
The king preened himself in his elaborate ceremonial robes.
to pride (oneself) on an achievement, personal quality, etc.:
He preened himself on having been graduated with honors.
verb (used without object)
to make oneself appear striking or smart in dress or appearance:
No amount of careful preening will compensate for poor posture.
to be exultant or proud.
Origin of preen1
late Middle English
1480-90; late Middle English prene, variant of Middle English prunen, proynen (see prune3), perhaps by association with prenen, to stab, pierce (v. use, now dial., of prene preen2), from the pricking action of a bird's beak in preening
Related forms
preener, noun
unpreened, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for preening
  • It always amazes me how much preening and fluffing goes into a single shot.
  • It breeds harmful bacteria-which they breathe and ingest while preening.
  • Those in advanced courtship sit long intervals in close contact, tenderly preening each other's heads and necks.
  • And if they try to clean themselves by preening, they ingest the oil, which causes kidney failure.
  • The facts and anecdotes are handled deftly, without preening.
  • Even though many stars borrow their gowns and jewels, not all of the primping and preening is free.
  • Once sprayed with the mix, the chicks ingest the bacteria while preening themselves.
  • There was hardly the preening outrage over her appearance then.
  • When he pitches, he goes about his business without preening or fist-pumping and takes his successes and failures in stride.
  • For pure if decadent simplicity, nothing beats a platter of oysters preening on their half shells.
British Dictionary definitions for preening


(of birds) to maintain (feathers) in a healthy condition by arrangement, cleaning, and other contact with the bill
to dress or array (oneself) carefully; primp
(usually foll by on) to pride or congratulate (oneself)
Derived Forms
preener, noun
Word Origin
C14 preinen, probably from prunen to prune³, influenced by prenen to prick, pin (see preen²); suggestive of the pricking movement of the bird's beak


(Scot) a pin, esp a decorative one
Word Origin
Old English prēon a pin; related to Middle High German pfrieme awl, Dutch priem bodkin
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin and History for preening



"to trim, to dress up," late 14c., perhaps a variation of Middle English proynen, proinen "trim the feather with the beak" (see prune (v.)); or perhaps from Old French poroindre "anoint before," and Old French proignier "round off, prune." Middle English prene (from Old English preon, a general Germanic word) meant "to pin," and probably influenced the form of this word. Watkins, however, connects it with Latin unguere "to smear, anoint."

Because of the popularity of falconry, bird activities formerly were more closely observed and words for them were more precise in English than today.

Youre hawke proynith and not pikith and she prenyth not bot whan she begynnyth at hir leggys, and fetcheth moystour like oyle at hir taill. ["Book of St. Albans," 1486]

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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