Definitions

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

  • n. A loose-fitting, white ecclesiastical gown with wide sleeves, worn over a cassock.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A liturgical vestment of the Christian Church. It has the form of a tunic of white linen or cotton material, with wide or moderately wide sleeves, reaching to the hips or knees. It usually features lace decoration and may have embroidered bordures.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A white garment worn over another dress by the clergy of the Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and certain other churches, in some of their ministrations.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. A loose-fitting vestment of white linen, with broad and full sleeves, worn over the cassock by clergymen and choristers in the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches.

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

  • n. a loose-fitting white ecclesiastical vestment with wide sleeves

Etymologies

Middle English surplis, from Anglo-Norman surpliz, variant of Old French sourpeliz, from Medieval Latin superpellīcium : Latin super-, super- + Medieval Latin pellīcium, fur coat (from Latin, neuter of pellīcius, made of skin, from pellis, skin; see pel-3 in Indo-European roots).
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Late Latin superpelliceum, from super ("over") and pellis ("fur"). (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • In another context a surplice is an ecclesiastical vestment.

    "Make It Yourself": Home Sewing, Gender, and Culture, 1890-1930

  • On weekdays he wore a smock-frock, which he called his surplice, with wonderful fancy stitches on the breast and back and sleeves.

    The Parish Clerk

  • I didn't know that was called a surplice bodice, but I've been looking for one pattern or ready to wear because I've always loved it.

    Back in the Saddle - A Dress A Day

  • Puritans called the surplice, and first hung up by some Puritan or

    Notes and Queries, Number 61, December 28, 1850

  • The Litany was regarded by Knox as rather of the nature of magic than of prayer, the surplice was a Romish rag, and there was some other objection to the congregation's taking part in the prayers by responses, though they were not forbidden to mingle their voices in psalmody.

    John Knox and the Reformation

  • {54} The Litany was regarded by Knox as rather of the nature of magic than of prayer, the surplice was a Romish rag, and there was some other objection to the congregation's taking part in the prayers by responses, though they were not forbidden to mingle their voices in psalmody.

    John Knox and the Reformation

  • One of the party made a notable discovery, that the surplice was a kind of garment used by the priests of

    Literary Character of Men of Genius Drawn from Their Own Feelings and Confessions

  • But music was grating to the prejudiced ears of the Scottish; clergy; sculpture and painting appeared instruments of idolatry the surplice was a rag of Popery; and every motion or gesture prescribed by the liturgy, was a step towards that spiritual Babylon, so much the object of their horror and aversion.

    The History of England in Three Volumes, Vol.I., Part D. From Elizabeth to James I.

  • She wore a narrow gown of pearl silk, the "surplice" waist belted high, and sleeves distended at the top by means of feather cushions tied in the armholes.

    My day : reminiscences of a long life,

  • The cape of fur, which hung down to the knees and was set over a kind of surplice of yellow silk, was open in front, revealing its wearer's naked bosom that was clothed only with row upon row of round gems of the size of a hazel nut.

    Red Eve

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  • "But only two priests were in the sacristy, one wearing blue-and-gold vestments and a second priest dressed in a long white surplice, who was trying to fix a silver censer that seemed to be broken."
    - 'The Colour Of Blood', Brian Moore.

    January 3, 2008