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late 14c., "cross out with lines," from Anglo-French canceler, from Latin cancellare "to make resemble a lattice," which in Late Latin took on a sense "cross out something written" by marking it with crossed lines, from cancelli, plural of cancellus "lattice, grating," diminutive of cancer "crossed bars, lattice," a variant of carcer "prison" (see incarceration). Figurative use, "to nullify an obligation" is from mid-15c. Related: Canceled (also cancelled); cancelling.