Definitions

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

  • noun The soft, spongy tissue in the center of the stems of most vascular plants, consisting mainly of parenchyma.
  • noun The soft inner substance of a feather or hair.
  • noun The spinal cord.
  • noun The essential or central part; the heart or essence.
  • noun Strength; vigor; mettle.
  • noun Significance; importance.
  • transitive verb To remove the pith from (a plant stem).
  • transitive verb To sever or destroy the spinal cord of, usually by inserting a needle into the vertebral canal.
  • transitive verb To kill (cattle) by cutting the spinal cord.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun In botany, the medulla, or central cylinder, composed of typical parenchymatous tissue, which occupies the center of the stems of dicotyledonous plants.
  • noun In. anatomy: The spinal cord or marrow; the medulla spinalis.
  • noun The central or medullary core of a hair.
  • noun Strength; vigor; force.
  • noun Energy; concentrated force; closeness and vigor of thought and style.
  • noun Condensed substance or matter; quintessence.
  • noun Weight; moment; importance.
  • noun The soft interior portion of the shaft of a feather.
  • To introduce an instrument into the cranial or spinal cavity of (an animal, as a frog), and destroy the cerebrospinal axis or a part of it.

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

  • noun (Bot.) The soft spongy substance in the center of the stems of many plants and trees, especially those of the dicotyledonous or exogenous classes. It consists of cellular tissue.
  • noun (Zoöl.) The spongy interior substance of a feather.
  • noun (Anat.) The spinal cord; the marrow.
  • noun Hence: The which contains the strength of life; the vital or essential part; concentrated force; vigor; strength; importance.
  • noun Same as Rice paper, under Rice.
  • transitive verb (Physiol.) To destroy the central nervous system of (an animal, as a frog), as by passing a stout wire or needle up and down the vertebral canal.

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

  • noun The soft spongy substance in the center of the stems of many plants and trees.
  • noun figuratively The essential or vital part.
  • verb transitive To extract the pith from (a plant stem or tree).
  • verb transitive To kill (especially cattle or laboratory animals) by cutting or piercing the spinal cord.

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

  • noun the choicest or most essential or most vital part of some idea or experience
  • noun soft spongelike central cylinder of the stems of most flowering plants
  • verb remove the pith from (a plant)

Etymologies

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

[Middle English, from Old English pitha.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Old English piþa, from Proto-Germanic *piþan (compare West Frisian piid 'pulp, kernel', Dutch peen 'carrot', Low German Peddik 'pulp, core'), from earlier *piþō (oblique *pittan). Doublet of pit. The verb meaning "to kill by cutting or piercing the spinal cord" is attested 1805.

Examples

Comments

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  • His sayings are generally like women's letters; all the pith is in the postscript.

    (William Hazlitt)

    September 11, 2008

  • I've never heard the noun form of this word.

    September 12, 2008

  • Really? What do you call the whitish bits on the inside of an orange?

    September 12, 2008

  • How strange; I've never heard the verb form.

    September 12, 2008

  • I meant I've only ever heard the adjective form, pithy. I never actually refer to the whitish bits inside of an orange, I suppose I might have heard them called pith before, but I meant pith used in the 4th WordNet definition above.

    September 15, 2008

  • good times, putting charge onto pith balls.

    October 2, 2008

  • You're a pith ball terrier, rubah.

    October 2, 2008

  • Bilby!

    October 2, 2008

  • verb-transitive/ To destroy the central nervous system of (an animal, as a frog), as by passing a stout wire or needle up and down the vertebral canal.

    No! No! No!

    May 4, 2010

  • "Bread and wine, the pith and nerve of men."

    Homer, The Iliad

    May 4, 2010