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

  • intransitive verb To increase in size or volume as a result of internal pressure; expand.
  • intransitive verb To increase in force, size, number, or degree.
  • intransitive verb To grow in loudness or intensity.
  • intransitive verb To bulge out, as a sail.
  • intransitive verb To rise or extend above the surrounding level, as clouds.
  • intransitive verb To rise in swells, as the sea.
  • intransitive verb To be or become filled or puffed up, as with pride, arrogance, or anger.
  • intransitive verb To rise from within.
  • intransitive verb To cause to increase in volume, size, number, degree, or intensity.
  • intransitive verb To fill with emotion.
  • noun The act or process of swelling.
  • noun The condition of being swollen.
  • noun A swollen part; a bulge or protuberance.
  • noun A long wave on water that moves continuously without breaking.
  • noun A rise in the land; a rounded elevation.
  • noun Informal One who is fashionably dressed or socially prominent.
  • noun A crescendo followed by a gradual diminuendo.
  • noun The sign indicating such a crescendo.
  • noun A device on an instrument, such as an organ or harpsichord, for regulating volume.
  • adjective Fashionably elegant; stylish.
  • adjective Excellent; wonderful.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • To grow in bulk; bulge; dilate or expand; increase in size or extent by addition of any kind; grow in volume, intensity, or force: literally or figuratively, and used in a great variety of applications.
  • To belly, as sails; bulge out, as a cask in the middle; protuberate.
  • To rise in altitude; rise above a given level.
  • To be puffed up with some feeling; show outwardly elation or excitement; hence, to strut; look big: as, to swell with pride, anger, or rage.
  • To rise and gather; well up.
  • To increase the bulk, size, amount, or number of; cause to expand, dilate, or increase.
  • To inflate; puff up; raise to arrogance.
  • To increase gradually the intensity, force, or volume of: as, to swell a tone. See swell, n., 4.
  • noun The act of swelling; augmentation in bulk; expansion; distention; increase in volume, intensity, number, force, etc.
  • noun An elevation above a level, especially a gradual and even rise: as, a swell of land.
  • noun A wave, especially when long and unbroken; collectively, the waves or fluctuations of the sea after a storm, often called ground-swell; billows; a surge: as, a heavy swell.
  • noun In music: A gradual increase and following decrease in loudness or force; a crescendo combined with a diminuendo. Compare messa di voce.
  • noun The sign ⟨ or ⟩, used to denote the above.
  • noun A mechanical contrivance in the harpsichord and in both the pipe-organ and the reed-organ by which the loudness of the tones may be varied by opening or shutting the lid or set of blinds of a closed box, case, or chamber within which are the sounding strings, pipes, or vibrators.
  • noun Same as swell-box, swell-keyboard, swell-organ, or swell-pedal. See also organ, 6.
  • noun In a cannon, an enlargement near the muzzle: it is not present in guns as now made.
  • noun In a gunstock, the enlarged and thickened part.
  • noun In geology, an extensive area from whose central region the strata dip quaquaversally to a moderate amount, so as to give rise to a geologically and topographically peculiar type of structure.
  • noun In coal-mining, a channel washed out or in some way eroded in a coal-seam, and afterward filled up with clay or sand. Also called, in some English coal-fields, a horse, and in others a want; sometimes also a horse-back, and in the South Wales coal-field a swine-back.
  • noun A man of great claims to admiration; one of distinguished personality; hence, one who puts on such an appearance, or endeavors to appear important or distinguished; a dandy: as, a howling swell (a conspicuously great swell).
  • noun In a stop-motion of a loom, a curved lever in the shuttle-box, which raises a catch out of engagement with the stop or stop-finger whenever the shuttle fairly enters the shuttle-box, but which, when the shuttle fails to enter, permits such engagement, thus bringing into action mechanism that stops the loom. Compare stop-motion.
  • First-rate of its kind; hence, elegant; stylish.

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

  • transitive verb To increase the size, bulk, or dimensions of; to cause to rise, dilate, or increase.
  • transitive verb To aggravate; to heighten.


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

Middle English swellen, from Old English swellan.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Middle English swellen, from Old English swellan ("to swell"), from Proto-Germanic *swellanan (“to swell”), of unknown origin. Cognate with Dutch zwellen ("to swell"), German schwellen ("to swell"), Swedish svälla ("to swell").


  • * I have decided that "swell" is the word for February.

    Busy weekend, oh yes

  • From the head of the lawn, on the first soft swell from the valley-level, looked down the deep-porched, many-windowed house.

    The Southland

  • To let his brain swell and keep the blood flowing, thereby preventing the damage from worsening, doctors removed virtually the entire left side of his skull, a procedure known as a craniectomy.

    Traumatic brain injury leaves an often-invisible, life-altering wound

  • A night of calm, when sleep is well-nigh impossible in the sultry, muggy air, may be followed by a day of blazing sun and an oily swell from the south'ard, connoting great gales in that area of ocean we are sailing toward -- or all day long the Elsinore, under an overcast sky, royals and sky sails furled, may plunge and buck under wind-pressure into a short and choppy head-sea.


  • I'm all for a sound and reasoned approach to any health and govt budget concerns, but what has been allowed to naturally and artificially swell is so close to a forest fire that the extremist who started it should face some type of charge and not a "Thank you" from like winged.

    DNC paints Pawlenty as liar

  • HURRAY – looks like a grassroots swell is a-comin '!!!

    Specter faces angry crowd at town hall meeting

  • The first native to surf a German swell is said to have been Uwe Drath, a lifeguard on Sylt, in 1952.

    Munich’s Malibu

  • Miami saw the margin swell to 12 midway through the second quarter and then to 15 when Wade soared past Desmond Mason and Collison for what became a three-point play with 2.8 seconds remaining in the third, as cries of ` ` M-V-P!

  • A night of calm, when sleep is well - nigh impossible in the sultry, muggy air, may be followed by a day of blazing sun and an oily swell from the south'ard, connoting great gales in that area of ocean we are sailing toward -- or all day long the Elsinore, under an overcast sky, royals and sky sails furled, may plunge and buck under wind-pressure into a short and choppy head-sea.

    Chapter 27

  • What's the long term swell forecast for this winter?

    North Coast Journal Comments


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  • It’s comforting to know that a dandy swell is the same thing as a swell dandy.

    September 18, 2011

  • Also a good meaning, seanahan. As long as it's not the meaning related to, say, the condition your foot might be in after it's run over. ;-)

    February 3, 2007

  • I prefer the meaning related to waves.

    February 2, 2007

  • Golly, this is a swell word!

    February 1, 2007