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

  • transitive v. To set down as a rule or guide; enjoin. See Synonyms at dictate.
  • transitive v. To order the use of (a medicine or other treatment).
  • intransitive v. To establish rules, laws, or directions.
  • intransitive v. To order a medicine or other treatment.
  • intransitive v. Law To assert a right or title to something on the grounds of prescription.
  • intransitive v. Law To become invalidated or unenforceable by the process of prescription.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • v. To order (a drug or medical device) for use by a particular patient.
  • v. To specify as a required procedure or ritual.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • transitive v. To lay down authoritatively as a guide, direction, or rule of action; to impose as a peremptory order; to dictate; to appoint; to direct.
  • transitive v. To direct, as a remedy to be used by a patient; as, the doctor prescribed quinine.
  • intransitive v. To give directions; to dictate.
  • intransitive v. To influence by long use.
  • intransitive v. To write or to give medical directions; to indicate remedies; as, to prescribe for a patient in a fever.
  • intransitive v. To claim by prescription; to claim a title to a thing on the ground of immemorial use and enjoyment, that is, by a custom having the force of law.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • To inscribe beforehand or in front.
  • To lay down beforehand, in writing or otherwise, as a rule of action; ordain; appoint; define authoritatively.
  • Specifically, to advise, appoint, or designate as a remedy for disease.
  • In law, to render invalid through lapse of time or negative prescription.
  • Synonyms To order, command, dictate, institute, establish.
  • To set rules; lay down the law; dictate.
  • To give medical directions; designate the remedies to be used: as, to prescribe for a patient in a fever.
  • In law: To claim by prescription; claim a title to a thing by immemorial use and enjoyment: with for: as, to prescribe for a right of way, of common, or the like
  • To become extinguished or of no validity through lapse of time, as a right, debt, obligation, and the like. See prescription

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

  • v. issue commands or orders for


Middle English prescriben, from Latin praescrībere : prae-, pre- + scrībere, to write; see skrībh- in Indo-European roots.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Latin praescribere, from prae ("before") and scribere ("to write"). (Wiktionary)


  • Forbidding the critic to prescribe is itself a prescription.

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  • In practice, few care labels prescribe vigorous laundering for table linens.


  • Okada bowed low -- as low as the rules of Japanese etiquette prescribe, which is to say that he bent himself almost double.

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  • Before its adoption, the Constitution of the United States did not in terms prescribe who should be citizens of the United States or of the several States, yet there were necessarily such citizens without such provision.

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  • For example, if you have allergies, your doctor might "prescribe" over-the-counter Claritin.

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  • Indeed, seven years after N.I.H. announced its results, the diabetes education program that powerfully interrupted the usual progression from prediabetes to diabetes is still so unavailable, despite being cheaper than medication, that almost no doctor in the United States --- a nation with 54 million prediabetics --- could "prescribe" it for a prediabetic patient.

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  • It is inconceivable to me that an actual medical doctor would "prescribe" an abortion as a means of treating depression.

    Obama backtracks on late-term abortions.

  • My broader point though, which isn't really invalidated by the change from "prescribe" to "promote" is that the "reasonableness" bar is not applied in a "reasonable man" fashion, but in a fairly arbitrary way.

    I just noticed that Dan Drezner called something "the Ann Althouse" idea.

  • The fear of the Lord maketh a merry heart, and giveth gladness, and joy, and long life: and all such as prescribe physic, to begin in nomine Dei, as [2821] Mesue did, to imitate Laelius a

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  • But not everyone agrees it would be wise to "prescribe" food or drinks to patients as a drug booster.

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