from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • intransitive verb To seize and hold (property) to compel payment or reparation, as of debts.
  • intransitive verb To seize the property of (a person) in order to compel payment of debts; distress.
  • intransitive verb To levy a distress.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • To pull or tear asunder; rend apart.
  • To press with force; bear with force upon; constrain; compel.
  • To restrain; bind; confine.
  • To distress; torment; afflict.
  • To gain or take possession of; seize; secure.
  • In law: To take and withhold (another's chattel), in order to apply it in satisfaction of the distrainor's demand against him, or to hold it until he renders satisfaction.
  • To seize and hold in satisfaction of a demand or claim, or in order to compel the performance of an obligation; seize under judicial process or authority: said of any movable property, or of goods and chattels. See distringas and distress.
  • To make seizure of goods in satisfaction of a claim, or in order to compel the performance of an obligation.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • intransitive verb To levy a distress.
  • transitive verb obsolete To press heavily upon; to bear down upon with violence; hence, to constrain or compel; to bind; to distress, torment, or afflict.
  • transitive verb obsolete To rend; to tear.
  • transitive verb To seize, as a pledge or indemnification; to take possession of as security for nonpayment of rent, the reparation of an injury done, etc.; to take by distress.
  • transitive verb To subject to distress; to coerce.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • verb obsolete To squeeze, press; to constrain, oppress.
  • verb law, transitive, obsolete To force (someone) to do something by seizing their property.
  • verb law, intransitive To seize somebody's property in place of, or to force, payment of a debt.
  • verb obsolete To pull off, tear apart.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • verb legally take something in place of a debt payment
  • verb levy a distress on
  • verb confiscate by distress


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Middle English distreinen, from Old French destreindre, destreign-, from Medieval Latin distringere, distrinct-, from Latin, to hinder : dis-, apart; see dis– + stringere, to draw tight; see streig- in Indo-European roots.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Old French destraindre, from Latin distringere ("to pull asunder, stretch out, engage, hinder, molest, Medieval Latin also compel, coerce as by exacting a pledge by a fine or by imprisonment"), from dis- ("apart") + stringere ("to draw tight, strain").


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  • Feasts equally as above said or else to distrain on the Ground if she be not paid after fourteen days at Lindly as the other some is out of the said Land Item I give to my Servant

    Anatomy of Melancholy 2007

  • Lent and Michaelmas or if he be not paid within fourteen Days after the said Feasts to distrain on any part of the Ground or on any of my Lands of Inheritance Item I give to my Sister Katherine Jackson during her life eight pounds per Ann. Annuity to be paid at the two

    Anatomy of Melancholy 2007

  • John Upton the Annuity of Forty Shillings out of my said Farme during his life (if till then my Servant) to be paid on Michaelmas day in Lindley each year or else after fourteen days to distrain

    Anatomy of Melancholy 2007

  • We have been obliged to distrain, as you know; and I wish John Smithies to buy in what he pleases.

    Mary Anerley Richard Doddridge 2004

  • He declared, that he had given no directions to distrain; and that the bailiff must have done it by his own authority. — ‘If that be the case,’ said the young squire, ‘let the inhuman rascal be turned out of our service.’

    The Life and Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves 2004

  • Is it not better to give glory to God by humble confession, than, in tenderness to ourselves, to seek for fig-leaves to cover our nakedness; and to put God to it to build his glory, which we denied him, upon the ruins of our own, which we preferred before him; and to distrain for that by yet sorer judgments which we refused voluntarily to surrender to him?

    The Reformed Pastor 1615-1691 1974

  • Who come upon us to distrain -- we pay them back in blows.

    The Reminiscences of an Irish Land Agent S.M. Hussey

  • The landlord _can at any time distrain_ for his rent; what object, then, would he have in incurring expense, and encountering delay, to procure a decree, which, when obtained, would _only restrict his former power_?

    Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine - Volume 55, No. 343, May 1844 Various

  • [39] A landlord requires no such warrant -- he can distrain without any authority.

    Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine - Volume 55, No. 343, May 1844 Various

  • Many stoutly refused to pay; and the constables whose duty it was to distrain in such cases manifested great reluctance to proceed to extremities.

    London and the Kingdom - Volume II


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