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[seyl] /seɪl/
an area of canvas or other fabric extended to the wind in such a way as to transmit the force of the wind to an assemblage of spars and rigging mounted firmly on a hull, raft, iceboat, etc., so as to drive it along.
some similar piece or apparatus, as the part of an arm that catches the wind on a windmill.
a voyage or excursion, especially in a sailing vessel:
They went for a sail around the island.
a sailing vessel or ship.
sailing vessels collectively:
The fleet numbered 30 sail.
sails for a vessel or vessels collectively.
(initial capital letter) Astronomy. the constellation Vela.
verb (used without object)
to move along or travel over water:
steamships sailing to Lisbon.
to manage a sailboat, especially for sport.
to begin a journey by water:
We are sailing at dawn.
to move along in a manner suggestive of a sailing vessel:
caravans sailing along.
to move along in a stately, effortless way:
to sail into a room.
verb (used with object)
to sail upon, over, or through:
to sail the seven seas.
to navigate (a vessel).
Verb phrases
sail in/into, Informal.
  1. to go vigorously into action; begin to act; attack.
  2. to attack verbally:
    He would sail into his staff when work was going badly.
in sail, with the sails set.
make sail, Nautical.
  1. to set the sail or sails of a boat or increase the amount of sail already set.
  2. to set out on a voyage:
    Make sail for the Leeward Islands.
set sail, to start a sea voyage:
We set sail at midnight for Nantucket.
trim one's sails, Informal. to cut expenses; economize:
We're going to have to trim our sails if we stay in business.
under sail, with sails set; in motion; sailing:
It was good to be under sail in the brisk wind and under the warm sun.
Origin of sail
before 900; (noun) Middle English sail(e), seille, Old English segl; cognate with German Segel, Old Norse segl; (v.) Middle English seillen, saylen, Old English siglan, seglian; cognate with Dutch zeilen, Old Norse sigla
Related forms
sailable, adjective
sailless, adjective
unsailable, adjective
unsailed, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for sail
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • I wasn't going to sail in a squadron if there were a chance for independent cruising.

    Youth Joseph Conrad
  • He told me, if he had to go to New York, he should sail in the Islander on the next tide.

    Up the River Oliver Optic
  • While I was speaking, I caught sight of a sail to the eastward.

    Peter Biddulph W.H.G. Kingston
  • If his business did not call him north at once, he should sail with us the next morning.

    Up the River Oliver Optic
  • From this I concluded that a sail had been sighted—a slaver possibly.

    In the Wilds of Africa W.H.G. Kingston
British Dictionary definitions for sail


an area of fabric, usually Terylene or nylon (formerly canvas), with fittings for holding it in any suitable position to catch the wind, used for propelling certain kinds of vessels, esp over water
a voyage on such a vessel: a sail down the river
a vessel with sails or such vessels collectively: to travel by sail, we raised seven sail in the northeast
a ship's sails collectively
something resembling a sail in shape, position, or function, such as the part of a windmill that is turned by the wind or the part of a Portuguese man-of-war that projects above the water
the conning tower of a submarine
in sail, having the sail set
make sail
  1. to run up the sail or to run up more sail
  2. to begin a voyage
set sail
  1. to embark on a voyage by ship
  2. to hoist sail
under sail
  1. with sail hoisted
  2. under way
verb (mainly intransitive)
to travel in a boat or ship: we sailed to Le Havre
to begin a voyage; set sail: we sail at 5 o'clock
(of a vessel) to move over the water: the liner is sailing to the Caribbean
(transitive) to manoeuvre or navigate a vessel: he sailed the schooner up the channel
(transitive) to sail over: she sailed the Atlantic single-handed
often foll by over, through, etc. to move fast or effortlessly: we sailed through customs, the ball sailed over the fence
to move along smoothly; glide
(informal) often foll by in or into
  1. to begin (something) with vigour
  2. to make an attack (on) violently with words or physical force
Derived Forms
sailable, adjective
sailless, adjective
Word Origin
Old English segl; related to Old Frisian seil, Old Norse segl, German Segel
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 sail

Old English segl "sail, veil, curtain," from Proto-Germanic *seglom (cf. Old Saxon, Swedish segel, Old Norse segl, Old Frisian seil, Dutch zeil, Old High German segal, German Segel), of obscure origin with no known cognates outside Germanic (Irish seol, Welsh hwyl "sail" are Germanic loan-words). In some sources (Klein, OED) referred to PIE root *sek- "to cut," as if meaning "a cut piece of cloth." To take the wind out of (someone's) sails (1888) is to deprive (someone) of the means of progress, especially by sudden and unexpected action, "as by one vessel sailing between the wind and another vessel," ["The Encyclopaedic Dictionary," 1888].


Old English segilan "travel on water in a ship; equip with a sail," from the same Germanic source as sail (n.); cognate with Old Norse sigla, Middle Dutch seghelen, Dutch zeilen, Middle Low German segelen, German segeln. Meaning "to set out on a sea voyage, leave port" is from c.1200. Related: Sailed; sailing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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sail in Technology

1. Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.
2. Stanford Artificial Intelligence Language.
3. An early system on the Larc computer.
[Listed in CACM 2(5):16, May 1959].
[Jargon File]

The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, © Denis Howe 2010
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Idioms and Phrases with sail
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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