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[span] /spæn/
the distance between the tip of the thumb and the tip of the little finger when the hand is fully extended.
a unit of length corresponding to this distance, commonly taken as 9 inches (23 cm).
a distance, amount, piece, etc., of this length or of some small extent:
a span of lace.
Civil Engineering, Architecture.
  1. the distance between two supports of a structure.
  2. the structure so supported.
  3. the distance or space between two supports of a bridge.
the full extent, stretch, or reach of anything:
a long span of memory.
Aeronautics. the distance between the wing tips of an airplane.
a limited space of time, as the term or period of living:
Our span on earth is short.
Mathematics. the smallest subspace of a vector space that contains a given element or set of elements.
verb (used with object), spanned, spanning.
to measure by the hand with the thumb and little finger extended.
to encircle with the hand or hands, as the waist.
to extend over or across (a section of land, a river, etc.).
to provide with something that extends over:
to span a river with a bridge.
to extend or reach over (space or time):
a memory that spans 90 years.
Mathematics. to function (in a subspace of a vector space) as a span.
Archery. to bend (the bow) in preparation for shooting.
Origin of span1
before 900; (noun) Middle English spanne, sponne, spayn, Old English span(n), spon(n); cognate with German Spanne, Dutch span, Old Norse spǫnn; (v.) Middle English spaynen, derivative of the noun


[span] /spæn/
verb, Archaic.
a simple past tense of spin. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for spanning
  • Pair your pours with one of the many world-spanning cheese selections.
  • The successful applicant will be expected to teach courses spanning the undergraduate physics curriculum.
  • Rather, he will call on a network of weather professionals spanning the globe to investigate new and strange weather phenomena.
  • In any case, one needs data, in particular data spanning the whole past century.
  • See tractors and other farm equipment spanning the last eighty years.
  • spanning two millennia, the works include paintings and ivory carvings.
  • What results is a conceptual epic spanning five centuries of globalization.
  • The car rolls to a stop on a narrow plank bridge spanning a culvert.
  • The prosecutors did so despite multiple opportunities, spanning nearly two decades, to set the record straight.
  • Kids learn about border-spanning ecosystems and take actions to help them.
British Dictionary definitions for spanning


the interval, space, or distance between two points, such as the ends of a bridge or arch
the complete duration or extent: the span of his life
(psychol) the amount of material that can be processed in a single mental act: apprehension span, span of attention
short for wingspan
a unit of length based on the width of an expanded hand, usually taken as nine inches
verb (transitive) spans, spanning, spanned
to stretch or extend across, over, or around
to provide with something that extends across or around: to span a river with a bridge
to measure or cover, esp with the extended hand
Word Origin
Old English spann; related to Old Norse sponn, Old High German spanna


a team of horses or oxen, esp two matched animals
Word Origin
C16 (in the sense: yoke): from Middle Dutch: something stretched, from spannen to stretch; see span1


(archaic or dialect) a past tense of spin
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 spanning



"distance between two objects," Old English span "distance between the thumb and little finger of an extended hand," probably related to Middle Dutch spannen "to join, fasten" (see span (n.2)).

The Germanic word was borrowed into Medieval Latin as spannus, hence Italian spanna, Old French espanne, French empan. As a measure of length, roughly nine inches. Meaning "length of time" first attested 1590s; that of "space between abutments of an arch, etc." is from 1725. Meaning "maximum lateral dimension of an aircraft" is first recorded 1909. Attention span is recorded from 1922.

"two animals driven together," 1769, from Dutch span, from spannen "to stretch or yoke," from Middle Dutch spannen, cognate with Old English spannen "to join" (see span (v.)).


Old English spannen "to clasp, fasten, stretch, span," from Proto-Germanic *spanwanan (cf. Old Norse spenna, Old Frisian spanna, Middle Dutch spannen, Old High German spannan, German spannen), from PIE root *(s)pen- "to draw, stretch, spin" (cf. Latin pendere "to hang, to cause to hang," pondus "weight" (the weight of a thing measured by how much it stretches a cord), pensare "to weigh, consider;" Greek ponein "to toil;" Lithuanian spendziu "lay a snare;" Old Church Slavonic peti "stretch, strain," pato "fetter," pina "I span;" Old English spinnan "to spin;" for other cognates, see spin (v.)). The meaning "to encircle with the hand(s)" is from 1781; in the sense of "to form an arch over (something)" it is first recorded 1630s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Related Abbreviations for spanning


  1. Small Publishers of North America
  2. standard portfolio analysis of margin
The American Heritage® Abbreviations Dictionary, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Idioms and Phrases with spanning


The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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