Definitions

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

  • n. A small, high-pitched, transverse flute used primarily to accompany drums in a military or marching band.
  • intransitive v. To play a fife.
  • transitive v. To perform (a piece or tune) on or as if on a fife.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A small shrill pipe, resembling the piccolo flute, used chiefly to accompany the drum in military music

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A small shrill pipe, resembling the piccolo flute, used chiefly to accompany the drum in military music.
  • intransitive v. To play on a fife.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. A musical instrument of the flute class, usually having a compass of about two octaves upward from the second D above the middle C; a piccolo, or a flute of still higher pitch: much used in military music, particularly with drums.
  • To play the fife, or to execute on a fife: as, to fife in a band; to fife a tune.
  • n. In organ-building, a piccolo stop.

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

  • n. a small high-pitched flute similar to a piccolo; has a shrill tone and is used chiefly to accompany drums in a marching band

Etymologies

Probably German Pfeife, from Middle High German pfīfe, from Old High German pfīffa, from Vulgar Latin *pīpa, from Latin pīpāre, to chirp.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)

Examples

Comments

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  • A small shrill-toned instrument of the flute kind, used chiefly to accompany the drum in military music. The fife is a transverse wind instrument with an embouchure hole and six fingerholes.

    "And blasts with whistling fifes new rage inspire." (P. Fletcher, Locusts II, iv, 1627)

    "And the vile squealing of the wry-necked fife..." (W. Shakespeare, "The Merchant of Venice")

    And the drums are going a rap a tap tap
    And the fifes they loudly play
    Fare you well, Polly my dear
    I must be going away.
    --"The Gentleman Soldier," trad., arr. the Pogues, c. 1985

    February 7, 2007