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

  • n. The young of herring and similar fish.
  • n. Minute marine organisms, such as crustaceans of the genus Calanus, that are a major source of food for right whales.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. One of the young of herrings, sprats etc
  • n. One of the tiny crustaceans, of the genus Calanus, that are part of the diet of right whales.
  • n. brit milah
  • v. To break in pieces; divide.
  • v. To bruise; indent.
  • v. To fall out or shatter (as overripe hops or grain).
  • v. To fade away; alter.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. The young of the common herring; also, a small species of herring; the sprat.
  • n. The minute marine animals (chiefly Entomostraca) upon which the right whales feed.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • To break in pieces; divide.
  • To bruise; indent.
  • To fall out or shatter, as overripe hops or grain.
  • To fade away; alter.
  • n. A young herring of the common kind, occurring in large shoals, and formerly classed as a separate species, Clupea minima.
  • n. A general name for animals upon which whales feed, as Clio borealis, etc.; whale-brit.
  • n. An abbreviation of British and Britain.

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

  • n. minute crustaceans forming food for right whales
  • n. a native or inhabitant of Great Britain
  • n. the young of a herring or sprat or similar fish


Perhaps from Cornish brȳthel, mackerel (from Old Cornish breithil, from *breith, speckled) or from Welsh brithyll, trout (from brith, speckled).
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Middle English brytten, brutten, from Old English brittian, bryttian ("to divide, dispense, distribute, rule over, possess, enjoy the use of"), from Proto-Germanic *brutjanan (“to break, divide”), from Proto-Indo-European *bʰreud- (“to break”). Cognate with Icelandic brytja ("to chop up, break in pieces, slaughter"), Swedish bryta ("to break, fracture, cut off"), Danish bryde ("to break") and Albanian brydh ("I make crumbly, friable, soft"). Related to Old English brytta ("dispenser, giver, author, governor, prince"), Old English brēotan ("to break in pieces, hew down, demolish, destroy, kill"). (Wiktionary)
Probably from Middle English bret or birt, applied to a different kind of fish. See bret. (Wiktionary)
Short for brit milah. (Wiktionary)


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  • Also see brite.

    January 26, 2012

  • In the Propontis, as far as I can learn, none of that peculiar substance called brit is to be found, the aliment of the right whale.

    - Melville, Moby-Dick, ch. 45

    July 25, 2008