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

  • noun A vessel in which substances are crushed or ground with a pestle.
  • noun A machine in which materials are ground and blended or crushed.
  • noun A portable, usually muzzleloading cannon used to fire shells at low velocities, short ranges, and high trajectories.
  • noun A shell fired by such a cannon.
  • noun Any of several similar devices, such as one that shoots life lines across a stretch of water.
  • noun A short, usually stationary, muzzleloading cannon used from the 1700s to early 1900s to fire large round shells at low velocities, short ranges, and high trajectories.
  • noun Any of various bonding materials used in masonry, surfacing, and plastering, especially a mixture of cement or lime, sand, and water that hardens in place and is used to bind together bricks or stones.
  • transitive verb To bombard with mortar shells.
  • transitive verb To plaster or join with mortar.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • To bray in a mortar.
  • To fasten or inclose with mortar.
  • noun A material used (in building) for binding together stones or bricks so that the mass may form one compact whole.
  • noun A vessel in which substances are beaten to powder by means of a pestle.
  • noun In a stamp-mill, the cast-iron box into which the stamp-heads fall, at the bottom of which is the die on which they would strike if it were not for the interposed ore with which the mortar is kept partly filled, and on whose side is the grating or screen through which the ore escapes as soon as it has been broken to sufficient fineness to pass through the holes in the screen.
  • noun A kind of lamp or candlestick with a broad saucer or bowl to catch the grease and keep the light safe; hence, the candle itself: in modern times, chiefly in ecclesiastical use, in the French form mortier.
  • noun A cap shaped like a mortar. Compare mortar-board.
  • noun A piece of ordnance, short in proportion to the size of its bore, used in throwing bombshells in what is called vertical fire.

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

  • transitive verb To plaster or make fast with mortar.
  • noun (Arch.) A building material made by mixing lime, cement, or plaster of Paris, with sand, water, and sometimes other materials; -- used in masonry for joining stones, bricks, etc., also for plastering, and in other ways.
  • noun a shallow box or receptacle in which mortar is mixed.
  • noun A strong vessel, commonly in form of an inverted bell, in which substances are pounded or rubbed with a pestle.
  • noun (Mil.) A short piece of ordnance, used for throwing bombs, carcasses, shells, etc., at high angles of elevation, as 45°, and even higher; -- so named from its resemblance in shape to the utensil above described.
  • noun (Mil.) a framework of wood and iron, suitably hollowed out to receive the breech and trunnions of a mortar.
  • noun (Naut.) a boat strongly built and adapted to carrying a mortar or mortars for bombarding; a bomb ketch.
  • noun [Obs.] a mortar.
  • noun obsolete A chamber lamp or light.

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

  • noun uncountable A mixture of lime or cement, sand and water used for bonding bricks and stones.
  • noun countable, military A muzzle-loading, indirect fire weapon with a tube length of 10 to 20 calibers and designed to lob shells at very steep trajectories.
  • noun countable A hollow vessel used to pound, crush, rub, grind or mix ingredients with a pestle.
  • verb To use mortar or plaster to join two things together.
  • verb To fire a mortar (weapon)

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

  • verb plaster with mortar
  • noun a muzzle-loading high-angle gun with a short barrel that fires shells at high elevations for a short range
  • noun used as a bond in masonry or for covering a wall
  • noun a bowl-shaped vessel in which substances can be ground and mixed with a pestle


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

[Middle English morter, from Old English mortere and from Old French mortier, both from Latin mortārium; see mer- in Indo-European roots.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Old French mortier, from Latin mortarium.


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  • c1350 in Trans. Philol. Soc. (1906) 511 Morter, pil et mundiloun, Morter, pestelle and pootstikke.

    July 21, 2008

  • "a kind of short cannon, of a large bore, with chambers. They are made of stone, brass or iron, and used for throwing shells, &c. They are distinguished by the diameter of the bore, as a 10, or 8 inch mortar. Smaller mortars are called coc-horns and royals." (citation in Historical Military Terms list description)

    In general, the most noticeable difference between mortars and cannons (should you ever wander through a National Battlefield Park) is that mortars are very squat and thick (not long-barreled), and usually aren't mounted on the kind of wheeled carriages you might think of for cannons. Also, they are aimed/fired based on trajectory calculation, not by aiming the barrel at the target (as with cannon).

    October 9, 2008