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

  • noun A piece of fabric sewn together and fitted to the spars and rigging of a vessel so as to convert the force of the wind into forward motion of the vessel.
  • noun The sails of a ship or boat.
  • noun A narrow fairwater supporting the bridge of a submarine.
  • noun Nautical A sailing vessel.
  • noun Nautical A trip or voyage in a sailing craft.
  • noun Something, such as the blade of a windmill, that resembles a sail in form or function.
  • intransitive verb To move across the surface of water, especially by means of a sailing vessel.
  • intransitive verb To travel by water in a vessel.
  • intransitive verb To start out on such a voyage or journey.
  • intransitive verb To operate a sailing craft, especially for sport.
  • intransitive verb To move along or progress smoothly or effortlessly.
  • intransitive verb To move along through the air.
  • intransitive verb To navigate or manage (a vessel).
  • intransitive verb To voyage upon or across.
  • idiom Nautical (under sail) With the sails up; sailing.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • To dance.
  • To assail.
  • In lawn-tennis, to rise after crossing the net: said of a ball.
  • To move along through or over the water by the action of the wind upon sails; by extension, to move along through or over the water by means of sails, oars, steam, or other mechanical agency.
  • To set sail; hoist sail and depart; begin a journey on shipboard: as, to sail at noon.
  • To journey by water; travel by ship.
  • To swim, as a fish or a swan.
  • To fly without visible movement of the wings, as a bird; float through the air; pass smoothly along; glide: as, the clouds sail across the sky.
  • Hence, figuratively To move forward impressively, as if in the manner of a ship with all sail set.
  • To plunge forward, like a ship; rush forward: sometimes with in.
  • To move or act with great caution; be in circumstances requiring careful action.
  • To live closely up to one's income; be straitened for money.
  • To move or pass over or upon by the action of the wind upon sails, or, by extension, by the propelling power of oars, steam, etc.
  • To direct or manage the motion, movements, and course of; navigate: as, to sail a ship.
  • noun A piece of cloth, or a texture or tissue of some kind, spread to the wind to cause, or assist in causing, a vessel to move through the water.
  • noun That part of the arm of a windmill which catches the wind.
  • noun One of the canvas flaps of a cart or wagon.
  • noun Figuratively, a wing.
  • noun A single ship or vessel, especially a ship considered as one of a number: the same form in the singular and the plural: as. at noon we sighted a sail and gave chase; a fleet of twenty sail.
  • noun A fleet.
  • noun Sailing qualities; speed.
  • noun A journey or excursion upon water; a passage in a vessel or boat.
  • noun A ride in a cart or other conveyance.
  • noun In zoology, a structure or formation of parts suggesting a sail in shape or use.
  • noun To spread more sail; hasten on by spreading more sail.
  • noun To abate show or pomp.

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

  • transitive verb To pass or move upon, as in a ship, by means of sails; hence, to move or journey upon (the water) by means of steam or other force.
  • transitive verb To fly through; to glide or move smoothly through.
  • transitive verb To direct or manage the motion of, as a vessel.
  • intransitive verb To be impelled or driven forward by the action of wind upon sails, as a ship on water; to be impelled on a body of water by the action of steam or other power.
  • intransitive verb To move through or on the water; to swim, as a fish or a water fowl.
  • intransitive verb To be conveyed in a vessel on water; to pass by water.


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

[Middle English seil, from Old English segl. Sail into, from obsolete sail, to attack, from Middle English sailen, short for assailen; see assail.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Old English seġel, from Proto-Germanic *seglan (compare earlier Middle Low German segel and later Low German sail), cognate with Dutch zeil, German Segel, Danish sejl), from pre-Germanic/Celtic sek-lo (compare Welsh hwyl, Irish séol), from Proto-Indo-European *sek- 'to cut'. More at saw.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Old English seġlian, cognate to earlier Middle Low German segelen and its descendant Low German sailen.


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  • "Then," said Mr. Hall, "I should think, on the whole, that, in such a place as this, where there are so many regular sail boats, and where excursions on the lake in them are so common and so well recognized as a distinct amusement, the phrase _taking a sail_ ought to be held to mean going in a sail boat, and that making a voyage in a steamer would not be fulfilling the promise."

    Rollo in Geneva Jacob Abbott 1841

  • "Then the sky narrowed at the edges and he began screaming at a panicky squire, "Back sail, _back sail_!"

    Mission to Moulokin Foster, Alan Dean, 1946- 1979

  • Aboard ship, Dana discovers that to sail is to tread the line between life and death.

    Richard Henry Dana 2010

  • Steering the sail is akin to steering a paraglider or parachute — the “autopilot” pod flying just under the kite shortens one side to dump wind and turn.

    Wind-Powered Rotor Ships Were Maritime Breakthrough of the 20s « Isegoria 2007

  • I think that he had never been entirely reconciled to the heathenish invention which I called a sail, and that down in the bottom of his heart he believed that the paddlers would eventually overhaul us; but now he couldn't praise it enough.

    Pellucidar Edgar Rice Burroughs 1912

  • Andrés de Urdaneta sets sail from the Philippine Islands on what eventually becomes recognized as a landmark voyage in sailing history.

    Mexico this month - June 2009

  • Andrés de Urdaneta sets sail from the Philippine Islands on what eventually becomes recognized as a landmark voyage in sailing history.

    Mexico this month - June 2009

  • It is no slight matter for two men, particularly when a stiff wind has sprung up, to handle a vessel like the Ghost, steering, keeping look-out for the boats, and setting or taking in sail; so it devolved upon me to learn, and learn quickly.

    Chapter 17 2010

  • I'd like to know how large the sail is when it's unfurled.

    Solar sails to take flight - Boing Boing 2009

  • What would stop Israel from setting up an investigation into complicty of the Turkish government in a premeditated armed attack on IDF commandoes by armed mercenaries and militants linked to known terrorist groups, who set sail from a Turkish port with the goal of breaking an Israeli blockade, and chanting “Khyber, khyber, beware O Jews”, and “Go back to Auschwitz” and various slogans glorifying jihad and martyrdom?

    The Volokh Conspiracy » What’s Going on With Turkey 2010


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