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

  • noun A melee; a free-for-all. synonym: brawl.

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

  • noun A brawl or fracas; a scene of chaos.


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

[After Donnybrook, fair, held annually in Donnybrook, a suburb of Dublin, Ireland, and noted for its brawls.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Named from Donnybrook, a suburb of Dublin, the site of a notoriously disorderly annual fair.


Help support Wordnik (and make this page ad-free) by adopting the word donnybrook.



Log in or sign up to get involved in the conversation. It's quick and easy.

  • Named after Donnybrook Fair, infamous in the 19th century for its faction fights; long since gentrified. 'It has turned into a veritable donnybrook', Apu watching mob warfare unfold in one episode of The Simpsons

    February 23, 2007

  • A scene of uproar and disorder; a heated argument.

    We are in Ireland, in what was once a village on the high road out of Dublin but which is now one of that city’s suburbs. King John gave a licence in 1204 to hold an annual fair in Donnybrook.

    By the eighteenth century it had become a vast assembly, held on August 26 and the following 15 days each year, a gathering-place for horse dealers, fortune-tellers, beggars, wrestlers, dancers, fiddlers, and the sellers of every kind of food and drink. It was renowned in Ireland and beyond for its rowdiness and noise, and particularly for the whiskey-fuelled fighting that went on after dark. A passing reference in, of all sober works, Walter Bagehot’s The English Constitution of 1867, gives a flavour: "The only principle recognised ... was akin to that recommended to the traditionary Irishman on his visit to Donnybrook Fair, ‘Wherever you see a head, hit it’." The usual weapon was a stick of oak or blackthorn that Irishmen often called a shillelagh (a word which derives from the town of that name in County Wicklow). The legend was that visitors to Donnybrook fair would rather fight than eat.

    As Donnybrook progressively became a residential suburb of Dublin, the fair became more and more a nuisance until a campaign was got up to have it closed; in 1855 the rights to the fair were bought up by Dublin Corporation and it was suppressed. It was around that time that its name started to be used to describe a brawl, at first in the form like Donnybrook fair but then elliptically.

    (from World Wide Words)

    May 21, 2008

  • And now we use it to describe companies battle for brand superiority: "But that campaign is just a slapfight compared with the donnybrooks that have broken out in other product categories." --John Carroll, WBUR (

    November 25, 2008