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

  • noun An exclamation or oath, especially one that is profane, vulgar, or obscene.
  • noun A word or phrase that does not contribute any meaning but is added only to fill out a sentence or a metrical line.
  • noun Linguistics A word or other grammatical element that has no meaning but is needed to fill a syntactic position, such as the words it and there in the sentences It's raining and There are many books on the table.
  • adjective Added or inserted in order to fill out something, such as a sentence or a metrical line.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • Serving to fill up; added to fill a vacancy, or for factitious emphasis: specifically used of words. See II., 2.
  • noun Something used to fill up; something not necessary but used for embellishment.
  • noun In rhetoric and grammar, a word or syllable which is not necessary to the sense or construction, or to an adequate description of a thing, but which is added for rhetorical, rhythmical, or metrical reasons, or which, being once necessary or significant, has lost notional force.
  • noun Hence, by euphemism, an oath; an exclamatory imprecation: as, his conversation was garnished with expletives.

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

  • adjective Filling up; hence, added merely for the purpose of filling up; superfluous.
  • noun A word, letter, or syllable not necessary to the sense, but inserted to fill a vacancy; an oath.

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

  • adjective Serving to fill up, merely for effect, otherwise redundant
  • adjective Marked by expletives (phrase-fillers)
  • noun A profane, vulgar term, notably a curse or obscene oath.
  • noun linguistics A word without meaning added to fill a syntactic position.
  • noun linguistics A word that adds to the strength of a phrase without affecting its meaning.

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

  • noun a word or phrase conveying no independent meaning but added to fill out a sentence or metrical line
  • noun profane or obscene expression usually of surprise or anger


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

[From Late Latin explētīvus, serving to fill out, from Latin explētus, past participle of explēre, to fill out : ex-, ex- + plēre, to fill; see pelə- in Indo-European roots.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Late Latin explētīvus ("serving to fill out"), from Latin explētus, the perfect passive participle of expleō ("fill out"), itself from ex ("out, completely") + *pleō ("fill").


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  • In grammar, a word empty of meaning. These include unintegrated fillers such as 'like', 'I mean', 'sort of', as well as nouns such as the dummy subject pronouns 'it' and 'there'. Swear words can be considered expletive if they're uttered out of habit with no intensifying meaning: from this has arisen the practice (outside grammar) of calling all swear words expletives.

    July 29, 2008