Definitions

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

  • adjective Short in time, duration, length, or extent.
  • adjective Succinct; concise.
  • adjective Curt; abrupt.
  • noun A short, succinct statement.
  • noun A condensation or an abstract of a larger document or series of documents.
  • noun Law A document concisely stating the legal points being made, including often the citation and explanation of supporting legal authority.
  • noun Roman Catholic Church A papal letter that is not as formal as a bull.
  • noun A briefing.
  • noun Short, tight-fitting underpants.
  • noun Chiefly British The instructions that are given to explain a task or assignment.
  • transitive verb To give instructions or preparatory information to.
  • transitive verb To summarize.
  • idiom (in brief) In short.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • Small with respect to length; short.
  • Abbreviated; cut or made short: as, the brief skirts of a ballet-dancer. [Humorous.]—
  • Short in duration; lasting a short time.
  • Short in expression; using few words; concise; succinct.
  • Clever; good: as, a brief discourse; “he gae us a very brief sermon,”
  • Keen.
  • Quick; ready; eager.
  • [Appar. a particular use of brief, short (hence quick, active, rife?); but some suppose a confusion with rife.] Common; rife; prevalent: as, I hear smallpox is very brief there.
  • In short.
  • Synonyms Short-lived, ephemeral, transitory, fleeting.
  • Compact, compendious.
  • noun A short or concise writing; a short statement or account; an epitome.
  • noun Specifically In law:
  • noun A writ summoning one to answer to any action; or any precept of the sovereign in writing issuing from any court and ordering something to be done. In Scots law, same as brieve (which see). In England, a letter patent from proper authority authorizing a public collection or charitable contribution of money for any public or private purpose; a license to make collections for repairing churches, making up for losses by fire, etc.: sometimes called a church brief or king's letter.
  • noun A writing in general; a letter.
  • noun In music, same as breve
  • noun The name given to certain official documents emanating from the pope, having a less solemn character than a bull.
  • noun [Also spelled breif, breef, ⟨ OF. bref, brief, a spell, talisman, ⟨ ML. breve, in pl. brevia, a writing containing magical characters carried as an amulet or talisman: a particular use of L. breve, a writing, as above.] A spell. Burns. [Scotch.] Synonyms
  • In brief; in short; briefly.
  • In or after a short time; soon; quickly.
  • To abridge; shorten; make a brief of: as, to brief pleadings.
  • To furnish with a brief; instruct by a brief.

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

  • adjective Short in duration.
  • adjective Concise; terse; succinct.
  • adjective Prov. Eng. Rife; common; prevalent.
  • adjective See under Brief, n.
  • transitive verb To make an abstract or abridgment of; to shorten.
  • noun A short concise writing or letter; a statement in few words.
  • noun An epitome.
  • noun (Law) An abridgment or concise statement of a client's case, made out for the instruction of counsel in a trial at law. This word is applied also to a statement of the heads or points of a law argument.
  • noun (Law) A writ; a breve. See Breve, n., 2.
  • noun (Scots Law) A writ issuing from the chancery, directed to any judge ordinary, commanding and authorizing that judge to call a jury to inquire into the case, and upon their verdict to pronounce sentence.
  • noun engraving A letter patent, from proper authority, authorizing a collection or charitable contribution of money in churches, for any public or private purpose.
  • noun a type of men's underpants without legs, fitting tightly and held by an elastic waistband; also called Jockey shorts.
  • noun a letter of the pope written on fine parchment in modern characters, subscribed by the secretary of briefs, dated “a die Nativitatis,” i. e., “from the day of the Nativity,” and sealed with the ring of the fisherman. It differs from a bull, in its parchment, written character, date, and seal. See Bull.
  • noun an abstract or abridgment of all the deeds and other papers constituting the chain of title to any real estate.
  • noun in a few words; in short; briefly.

Etymologies

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

[Middle English bref, from Old French, from Latin brevis. N., Middle English bref, written communication, from Old French, from Medieval Latin breve, from Latin, neuter of brevis, short; see mregh-u- in Indo-European roots.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Old French brief, from Latin brevis ("short"). Compare French bref.

Examples

  • The brief you will be making now will consist of an _introduction_, which states whatever facts and principles are necessary to an understanding of the brief, and the _brief_ itself, which consists of a series of propositions, each supporting your main contention, and each in turn supported by others, which again may each be supported by another series.

    The Making of Arguments

  • Secretary Gates used the term brief pause again in his testimony.

    CNN Transcript Apr 10, 2008

  • At any rate, without going into that specifically, in February he used the term brief pause.

    CNN Transcript Apr 8, 2008

  • That, in brief, is the purpose of this little volume, in which Dr. Raper summarizes the results of careful studies, made by himself and Professor Walter Chivers, of the eight-four lynchings of the past five years.

    The Mob Still Rides

  • What, in brief, is the operative relation between aesthetic pleasure and criticism?

    Response to Thomas Pfau

  • This, in brief, is the system which has been laid out for us by child experts and educators generally, and the well-to‑do parents of America have accepted it without question as the normal and natural procedure in the upbringing of their children.

    Conscripted Children

  • Such in brief is the outline of the Indian State as it has emerged through the fifties.

    India and the Sixties

  • Such in brief is my specification for a genus Americans, whose voice I do not hear.

    Wanted: American Radicals

  • This, in brief, is the system which has been laid out for us by child experts and educators generally, and the well-to‑do parents of America have accepted it without question as the normal and natural procedure in the upbringing of their children.

    Conscripted Children

  • This, in brief, is the system which has been laid out for us by child experts and educators generally, and the well-to‑do parents of America have accepted it without question as the normal and natural procedure in the upbringing of their children.

    Conscripted Children

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