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

  • n. See level.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A tool employing a chamber with a colored liquid (usually alcohol, hence spirit) and an air bubble, used to determine a horizontal or vertical reference line.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. one in which the adjustment to the horizon is shown by the position of a bubble in alcohol or ether contained in a nearly horizontal glass tube, or a circular box with a glass cover.
  • n. See under Level.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. See level, 1.

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

  • n. indicator that establishes the horizontal when a bubble is centered in a tube of liquid


Sorry, no etymologies found.


    Sorry, no example sentences found.


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  • By 1979, "gay" in the sense of "homosexual" was already widespread among gays and lesbians themselves, so I expect that there is a play on words going on here. Bishop was a lesbian, who like most lesbians of her generation had to be very discreet; it may indeed be the case that this poem about freedom and escape (from the mirror!) indicates a new acceptance of her own homosexuality.

    July 25, 2012

  • I'm not going to respond until you finish your comment.

    My gay ... apostrophe?

    July 25, 2012

  • Sounds like the last known use of gay without sexual reference.

    July 24, 2012

  • Sonnet

    - by Elizabeth Bishop

    Caught—the bubble

    in the spirit-level,

    a creature divided;

    and the compass needle

    wobbling and wavering,


    Freed—the broken

    thermometer's mercury

    running away;

    and the rainbow-bird

    from the narrow bevel

    of the empty mirror,

    flying wherever

    it feels like, gay!


    July 23, 2012

  • n. An instrument for determining the plane of the horizon, or the plane perpendicular to the direction in which bodies fall under the action of gravity. The simplest instrument used for this purpose is the plumbline. This is now superseded for most purposes by the bubble- or spirit-level, which consists of a frame of some kind firmly holding a glass tube, closed at the ends, nearly filled with anhydrous ether, or a mixture of ether and alcohol, and having its inner surface on the upper part ground into the form of the outer part of an anchor-ring. Fine levels have besides a graduated scale either on the glass or on a metallic rule set against it, so as to mark the precise position of the bubble. Most fine levels are provided with a chamber so contrived that the length of the bubble can be altered. The spirit-level is usually reversed in use, and the mean of its two indications adopted. The spirit-level is an attachment of most geodetical instruments; and there is a special instrument called a level or leveling-instrument (which see). -- from Century Dictionary definition of level

    July 22, 2012