Denotation vs. Connotation


[spel] /spɛl/
verb (used with object), spelled or spelt, spelling.
to name, write, or otherwise give the letters, in order, of (a word, syllable, etc.):
Did I spell your name right?
(of letters) to form (a word, syllable, etc.):
The letters spelled a rather rude word.
to read letter by letter or with difficulty (often followed by out):
She painfully spelled out the message.
to discern or find, as if by reading or study (often followed by out).
to signify; amount to:
This delay spells disaster for us.
verb (used without object), spelled or spelt, spelling.
to name, write, or give the letters of words, syllables, etc.:
He spells poorly.
to express words by letters, especially correctly.
Verb phrases
spell down, to outspell others in a spelling match.
spell out,
  1. to explain something explicitly, so that the meaning is unmistakable:
    Must I spell it out for you?
  2. to write out in full or enumerate the letters of which a word is composed:
    The title “Ph.D.” is seldom spelled out.
Origin of spell1
1250-1300; Middle English spellen < Old French espeller < Germanic; compare Old English spellian to talk, announce (derivative of spell spell2), Old High German -spellōn, Old Norse spjalla, Gothic spillōn
Related forms
spellable, adjective
unspellable, adjective
5. foretell, portend, mean, promise. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for spelt out
Historical Examples
  • That's where Emmeline Camp lives that was a Jones an' spelt out o' my spellin'-book!

    Four Girls and a Compact Annie Hamilton Donnell
  • Sophia lifted the first of the papers and spelt out the names.

    The Book of All-Power Edgar Wallace
  • What one man has spelt out from it may remain incomprehensible to another.

    Stained Glass Tours in France Charles Hitchcock Sherrill
  • He took the paper from me and spelt out the words carefully.

    The Birthright Joseph Hocking
  • She took the book and spelt out the words by the light of the candle which Minnie held up for her.

    Hollowmell E.R. Burden
  • We spelt out the alphabet, and received a typtological communication.

  • "To be perfectly accurate," he explained conscientiously, "he was caught with a pair of—of—" Delicately he spelt out the word.

    Peace on Earth, Good-will to Dogs Eleanor Hallowell Abbott
  • During this seance it was Dr. Maxwell who spelt out the alphabet.

  • What he knew he had spelt out for himself with no teacher except the aspect of human suffering, and degradation, and sin.

    Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay George Otto Trevelyan
  • However, the alphabet was called for again, and "mething else" was spelt out.

    Psychic Phenomena Edward T. Bennett
British Dictionary definitions for spelt out


verb spells, spelling, spelt, spelled
to write or name in correct order the letters that comprise the conventionally accepted form of (a word or part of a word)
(transitive) (of letters) to go to make up the conventionally established form of (a word) when arranged correctly: d-o-g spells dog
(transitive) to indicate or signify: such actions spell disaster for our cause
See also spell out
Derived Forms
spellable, adjective
Word Origin
C13: from Old French espeller, of Germanic origin; related to Old Norse spialla to talk, Middle High German spellen


a verbal formula considered as having magical force
any influence that can control the mind or character; fascination
a state induced by or as if by the pronouncing of a spell; trance: to break the spell
under a spell, held in or as if in a spell
(transitive) (rare) to place under a spell
Word Origin
Old English spell speech; related to Old Norse spjall tale, Gothic spill, Old High German spel


an indeterminate, usually short, period of time: a spell of cold weather
a period or tour of duty after which one person or group relieves another
(Scot & Austral, NZ) a period or interval of rest
(transitive) to take over from (a person) for an interval of time; relieve temporarily
(NZ) spell a paddock, to give a field a rest period by letting it lie fallow
Word Origin
Old English spelian to take the place of, of obscure origin
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 spelt out



"name the letters of," Old English spellian "to tell, speak," infl. by Old French espeller "declare, spell," from Frankish *spellon "to tell;" both Old English and Frankish from Proto-Germanic *spellan (cf. Old High German spellon "to tell," Old Norse spjalla, Gothic spillon "to talk, tell"), from PIE *spel- "to say aloud, recite." Related: Spelled; spelling.

Meaning "write or say the letters of a word" is c.1400, from notion of "read letter by letter, read with difficulty" (c.1300). Spell out "explain step-by-step" is first recorded 1940, American English. Spelling bee is from 1878 (earlier simply spelling, 1860).

"work in place of (another)," Old English spelian "to take the place of," related to gespelia "substitute," of uncertain origin. Perhaps related to spilian "to play" (see spiel). Related: Spelled; spelling. The noun meaning "indefinite period of time" first recorded 1706.


"incantation, charm," Old English spell "story, speech," from Proto-Germanic *spellan (cf. Old Norse spjall, Old High German spel, Gothic spill "report, discourse, tale;" German Beispiel "example;" see spell (v.1)). Meaning "set of words with magical powers, incantation, charm" first recorded 1570s.

The term 'spell' is generally used for magical procedures which cause harm, or force people to do something against their will -- unlike charms for healing, protection, etc. ["Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore"]

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Idioms and Phrases with spelt out


In addition to the idiom beginning with
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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