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

  • adjective Surpassing what is common or usual; exceptional.
  • adjective Distinct among others of a kind.
  • adjective Primary.
  • adjective Peculiar to a specific person or thing; particular.
  • adjective Having a limited or specific function, application, or scope.
  • adjective Arranged for a particular occasion or purpose.
  • adjective Regarded with particular affection and admiration.
  • adjective Additional; extra.
  • noun Something arranged, issued, or appropriated to a particular service or occasion.
  • noun A featured attraction, such as a reduced price.
  • noun A single television production that features a specific work, a given topic, or a particular performer.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • Of or pertaining to a species or sort; of a particular kind or character; distinct from other kinds; specifically characteristic.
  • Of or pertaining to one or more of a kind; peculiar to an individual or a set; not general; particular; individual.
  • Peculiar or distinct of the kind; of exceptional character, amount, degree, or the like; especially distinguished; express; particular.
  • Specifically, limited as to function, operation, or purpose; designed for specific application or service; acting for a limited time or in a restricted manner; not general of the kind named: as, special legislation; special pleading; a special agent, constable, or correspondent; special employment; a special dictionary.
  • Synonyms Special, Especial, Particular, Peculiar, Specific. Special is more common than especial, which has the same meaning; but especially is for rhythmical reasons (because it occurs most frequently at the beginning of a dependent clause, where usually an unaccented particle occurs, and where, therefore, a word with an accent on the first syllable is instinctively avoided) much more common than specially. The special comes under the general, as the particular comes under the special. A special favor is one that is more than ordinary; a particular favor is still more remarkable; a peculiar favor comes very closely home. When we speak of any particular thing, we distiuguish it from all others; when we speak of a specific fault in one's character, we name it with exactness; a special law is one that is made for a particular purpose or a peculiar case; a specific law is either one that we name exactly or one that names offenses, etc., exactly.
  • noun A special or particular person or thing.
  • noun (b ) A private companion; a paramour or concubine.
  • noun A person or thing appointed or set apart for a special purpose or occasion, as a constable, a railway-train, an examination, a dispatch, etc.: as, they traveled by special to Chicago; the specials were called out to quell the riot.

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

  • noun obsolete A particular.
  • noun One appointed for a special service or occasion.
  • noun specially; in particular.
  • adjective Of or pertaining to a species; constituting a species or sort.
  • adjective Particular; peculiar; different from others; extraordinary; uncommon.
  • adjective Appropriate; designed for a particular purpose, occasion, or person.
  • adjective Limited in range; confined to a definite field of action, investigation, or discussion.
  • adjective obsolete Chief in excellence.
  • adjective (Law) an administration limited to certain specified effects or acts, or one granted during a particular time or the existence of a special cause, as during a controversy respecting the probate of a will, or the right of administration, etc.
  • adjective an agency confined to some particular matter.
  • adjective (Law) sureties who undertake that, if the defendant is convicted, he shall satisfy the plaintiff, or surrender himself into custody.
  • adjective See under Constable.
  • adjective (Law) a damage resulting from the act complained of, as a natural, but not the necessary, consequence of it.
  • adjective (Law) a demurrer for some defect of form in the opposite party pleading, in which the cause of demurrer is particularly stated.
  • adjective a deposit made of a specific thing to be kept distinct from others.
  • adjective (Biol.) See under Homology.
  • adjective (Law) an injuction granted on special grounds, arising of the circumstances of the case.
  • adjective (Law) an issue produced upon a special plea.
  • adjective (Law) a jury consisting of persons of some particular calling, station, or qualification, which is called upon motion of either party when the cause is supposed to require it; a struck jury.
  • adjective (Mil.) orders which do not concern, and are not published to, the whole command, such as those relating to the movement of a particular corps, a detail, a temporary camp, etc.
  • adjective a limited partner; a partner with a limited or restricted responsibility; -- unknown at common law.
  • adjective a limited or particular partnership; -- a term sometimes applied to a partnership in a particular business, operation, or adventure.
  • adjective (Law) a plea setting forth particular and new matter, distinguished from the general issue.
  • adjective (Law) originally, a counsel who devoted himself to drawing special counts and pleas; in a wider sense, a lawyer who draws pleadings.
  • adjective (Law) The phrase is sometimes popularly applied to the specious, but unsound, argumentation of one whose aim is victory, and not truth.
  • adjective (Law) a qualified or limited ownership possession, as in wild animals, things found or bailed.
  • adjective an extraordinary session; a session at an unusual time or for an unusual purpose.


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

[Middle English, from Old French especial, from Latin speciālis, from speciēs, kind; see species.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Middle English, from Old French especial (whence also French spécial), from Latin specialis (from species, speciei). Used in English since the 13th century.


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  • Don't forget about The Church Lady's (Saturday Night Live) rendition of this word, "Isn't that special?"

    March 26, 2009

  • 'I'm Thpecial!'

    December 2, 2009

  • CD&C oscillating between Yeats and Miss Manners.

    January 4, 2013

  • I like how the CD&C specifically mentions "a special dictionary."

    January 4, 2013

  • --from the examples: British, colloquial A special constable. --Like those portrayed by Monty Python.

    January 4, 2013