first / fərst/ • ordinal number 1. coming before all others in time or order; earliest; 1st: his first wife the first of five daughters ∎ never previously done or occurring: her first day at school. ∎ coming next after a specified or implied time or occurrence: I didn't take the first bus. ∎ met with or encountered before any others: the first house I came to. ∎ originally: many valuable drugs have been recognized first as poisons. ∎ before doing something else specified or implied: do you mind if I take a shower first? ∎ for the first time: she first picked up a guitar out of sheer boredom. ∎ firstly; in the first place (used to introduce a first point or reason): first, it is wrong that the victims should have no remedy. ∎ in preference; rather (used when strongly rejecting a suggestion or possibility): she longed to go abroad, but not at this man's expense—she'd die first! ∎ with a specified part or person in a leading position: it plunged nose first into the river. ∎ inf. the first occurrence of something notable: we traveled by air, a first for both of us. ∎ the first in a sequence of a vehicle's gears: he stuck the car in first and revved. ∎ Baseball first base: he made it all the way home from first. ∎ the first grade of a school. ∎ a first edition of a book. 2. foremost in position, rank, or importance: the doctor's first duty is to respect this right career women who put work first football must come first. ∎ the most likely, pressing, or suitable: he is the first to admit he was not the best of patients his first problem is where to live. ∎ the first finisher or position in a race or competition. ∎ Mus. performing the highest or chief of two or more parts for the same instrument or voice: the first violins. ∎ (firsts) goods of the best quality: factory firsts, seconds, and discontinued styles. ∎ Brit. a place in the top grade in an examination, esp. that for a degree: he took a first in Classics. ∎ Brit. a person having achieved such a degree. PHRASES: at first at the beginning; in the initial stage or stages: at first Hugh tried to be patient. at first glancesee glance1 . at first handsee firsthand. at first instancesee instance. at first sightsee sight. (the) first among equalssee equal. first bloodsee blood. first come, first served used to indicate that people will be dealt with in the order in which they arrive or apply: tickets are available on a first come, first served basis. first and foremost most importantly; more than anything else: I'm first and foremost a writer. first and last fundamentally; on the whole: museums are first and last about curatorship. first of all before doing anything else; at the beginning: first of all, let me ask you something. ∎ most importantly: German unity depends first of all on the German people. first off inf. as a first point; first of all: first off, I owe you a heck of an apology. first thing early in the morning; before anything else: I have to meet Josh first thing tomorrow. first things first used to assert that important matters should be dealt with before other things. from the (very) first from the beginning or the early stages: he should have realized it from the first. from first to last from beginning to end; throughout: it's a fine performance that commands attention from first to last. get to first basesee base1 . in the first place as the first consideration or point: political reality was not quite that simple—in the first place, divisions existed within the parties. ∎ at the beginning; to begin with (esp. in reference to the time when an action was being planned or discussed): I should have told you in the first place. of the first order (or magnitude) used to denote something that is excellent or considerable of its kind: it is a media event of the first order. of the first watersee water. ORIGIN: Old English fyr(e)st; of Germanic origin, related to Old Norse fyrstr and German Fürst ‘prince,’ from an Indo-European root shared by Sanskrit prathama, Latin primus, and Greek prōtos.
first catch your hare proverbial saying, early 19th century, referring to the first essential step that must be taken before a process can begin; often attributed to the English cook Hannah Glasse (fl. 1747), but her directions for making hare soup are, ‘Take your hare when it is cased’ (cased here meaning ‘skinned’). An early 14th-century Latin source has the related, ‘it is commonly said that one must first catch the deer, and afterwards, when he has been caught, skin him.’
(Compare catching's before hanging.)first come, first served proverbial saying, late 14th century; late 13th-century French has the related, ‘he who comes first to the mill may grind first.’
First Consul the title held by Napoleon Bonaparte (see Napoleon) from 1799 to 1804, when he became Emperor of France.
the first duty of a soldier is obedience proverbial saying, mid 19th century.
First Fleet comprising the eleven British ships under the command of Arthur Phillip (1738–1814), sailor and first governor of New South Wales, which arrived in Australia in January 1788.
first-foot the first person to cross a threshold in the New Year, in accordance with a Scottish custom; it is traditionally thought lucky for the first-foot to be a dark-haired man.
First Four Ships the first European settlers' ships that arrived in New Zealand in 1840.
first fruits the first agricultural produce of a season, especially when given as an offering to God; originally with biblical allusion as to Numbers 18:12.
first impressions are the most lasting the impression made at a first encounter will not easily be modified by later contact. Proverbial saying, early 18th century.
First Lady the wife of the President of the US; the term is recorded from the mid 19th century, and has gradually come into official use.
first past the post winning a race (especially a horse-race) by being the first to reach the finishing line; a first-past-the-post electoral system is one, as in Britain, in which a candidate or party wins an election by achievement of a simple majority.
First State an informal name for Delaware.
first things first often uttered as a remonstrance; proverbial saying, late 19th century.
first thoughts are best advice to trust an instinctive reaction; often used as a warning against indecision. The saying is recorded from the early 20th century.
First World the industrialized capitalist countries of western Europe, North America, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.
First World War a war (1914–18) in which the Central Powers (Germany and Austria–Hungary, joined later by Turkey and Bulgaria) were defeated by an alliance of Britain and its dominions, France, Russia, and others, joined later by Italy and the US.
it is the first step that is difficult proverbial saying, late 16th century. The saying is found in French as ‘ce n'est que le premier pas qui coûte [it is only the first step that costs]’, and is recorded as the comment of Madame Du Deffand (1697–1780), on the legend that St Denis, carrying his head in his hands, walked for two leagues.
on the first of March, the crows begin to search crows traditionally pair off on this day; saying recorded from the mid 19th century.
there is always a first time often used as an encouragement to someone in an unfamiliar situation; saying recorded from the late 16th century. Also found in the form there's a first time for everything.
see also get to first base, first blood, cast the first stone, safety first, women and children first.
Hence firstling first product or offspring XVI. See -LING1.