views updated May 21 2018

white a colour or pigment of the colour of milk or fresh snow, due to the reflection of all visible rays of light; the opposite of black, traditionally taken as the colour of innocence and purity.

From the 17th century, white was specially associated with royalist and legitimist causes, as in the white cockade of the Jacobites and the white flag of the Bourbons.
Mrs White is one of the six stock characters constituting the murderer and suspects in the game of Cluedo.
one white foot, buy him; two white feet, try him; three white feet, look well about him; four white feet, go without him proverbial saying on horse-dealing, categorizing features in a horse which are believed to be unlucky; recorded in various forms from the 15th century.
White Army any of the armies which opposed the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War of 1918–21.
White Boar the personal badge of Richard III (1452–85), alluded to in the political rhyme beginning the cat, the rat, and Lovell the dog.
white-bread of, belonging to, or representative of the white middle classes; not progressive, radical, or innovative; the term (which is recorded from the late 1970s, originally in North America) refers to the colour and perceived blandness of white bread as a commodity, and may also be a pun on ‘white bred’.
white Christmas Christmas with snow on the ground, a term first recorded in Charles Kingsley Two Years Ago (1857), ‘We shall have a white Christmas, I expect. Snow's coming.’, and popularized by Irving Berlin's song ‘White Christmas’ (1942).
white cliffs of Dover the chalk cliffs on the Kent coast near Dover, taken as a national and patriotic symbol, and popularized as such in the patriotic wartime song by Nat Burton ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’ (1941).
white cockade a Jacobite badge, worn by the supporters of Charles Edward Stuart; according to a note in Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson, in 1745 Boswell himself ‘wore a white cockade, and prayed for King James’.
white-collar of or relating to the work done or those who work in an office or other professional environment; denoting non-violent crime committed by white-collar workers, especially fraud. References to a white collar as the sign of a clerical or non-manual worker are found from the 1920s.
White Company the name of a mercenary company led by John Hawkwood (d. 1394), who were active in Italy in the mid 14th century; it is suggested that the name reflected the splendour of their equipment.
White Devil in John Webster's eponymous play (1612), the name given to the central character, Vittoria Corombona, who connives at the murder of her husband and her lover's wife, and who is finally herself murdered; the play is based on the historical character Vittoria Accoramboni (1557–85).
white dwarf a small very dense star that is typically the size of a planet. A white dwarf is formed when a low-mass star has exhausted all its central nuclear fuel and lost its outer layers as a planetary nebula.
white elephant a possession that is useless or troublesome, especially one that is expensive to maintain or difficult to dispose of, from the story that the kings of Siam gave such animals as a gift to courtiers considered obnoxious, in order to ruin the recipient by the great expense incurred in maintaining the animal.
white ensign a white flag carrying a St George's cross with the Union Jack in the top corner next to the flagstaff, flown by the Royal and most Commonwealth navies (other than that of Canada) and the Royal Yacht Squadron.
White Father a member of the Society of Missionaries of Africa, a Roman Catholic order founded in Algiers in 1868; the term is a translation of the French Père Blanc, for the white habits worn by the order.
white flag a white flag or cloth used as a symbol of surrender, truce, or a desire to parley; Livy's Roman Histories refer to a Carthaginian ship displaying white flags as a sign of peace. The white flag was also the flag of the house of Bourbon, and thus the national flag of pre-Revolutionary France.
White Friar a Carmelite monk, so named because of the white habits worn by the monks.
White Goddess in the poetic thought of Robert Graves (1895–1985), the triple mother goddess as the source of poetic inspiration.
White Hart the personal badge of Richard II (1306–1400), shown wearing a golden collar; his mother's personal badge had been a white hind.
white heat the temperature or state of something that is so hot that it emits white light; a state of intense passion or activity. Since the 1960s the term has been associated with the phrase ‘the white heat of technology’, a popular misquotation of a passage from a speech by Harold Wilson in 1963.
White Highlands an area in western Kenya formerly (1909–59) reserved for Europeans.
White Horse the figure of a white horse, reputed (by later writers) as the ensign of the Saxons when they invaded Britain, and the heraldic ensign of Brunswick, Hanover, and Kent; also, the figure of a horse cut on the face of chalk downs in England, and popularly supposed to represent the ‘white horse’ of the Saxons; notably that near Uffington in Berkshire.
white horses white-crested waves at sea; the term is recorded from the mid 19th century, and in poetry is often used in an extended metaphor.
White House the official residence of the US president in Washington DC. The White House was built in 1792–9 of greyish-white limestone from designs of the Irish-born architect James Hoban (c.1762–1831). The building was restored in 1814 after being burnt by British troops during the War of 1812, the smoke-stained walls being painted white. It was first formally designated the White House in 1902.
white information positive information about a person's creditworthiness held by a bank or similar institution; the term is recorded from the late 1980s, and is the opposite of the kind of black information which might cause a person to be blacklisted.
white knight a hero or champion; in allusion to the amiable and confused White Knight in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass (1872), a term for an amiable but ineffectual person. Later, the phrase was used without irony in Stock Exchange slang to mean a company which comes to the aid of another which is facing an unwelcome take-over bid.

White Knight title of one of three hereditary Irish titles (the others being the Knight of Glin and the Knight of Kerry). The title of the White Knight (which is currently in abeyance) was granted to the Fitzgibbon family in the 14th century when Maurice Fitzgibbon was reputedly knighted by Edward III after distinguishing himself at the battle of Halidon Hill in Scotland in 1333.
white lie a harmless or trivial lie, especially one told to avoid hurting someone's feelings; the term is first recorded in the Gentleman's Magazine of 1741.
white-livered feeble-spirited, cowardly; reflecting the traditional belief that a light-coloured liver indicated a deficiency of bile or choler, and thus of vigour, spirit, or courage.
white magic magic used only for good purposes, the opposite of black magic.
white man's burden the supposed task of whites to spread the benefits of civilization. The term derives from a poem by Kipling, ‘The White Man's Burden’ (1899), written with particular reference to the colonial role of the US in the Philippines:
white man's grave equatorial West Africa considered as being particularly unhealthy for whites; recorded from the mid 19th century.
White Monk a Cistercian monk, so named (in late Middle English) because of the habits of undyed wool worn by the monks.
White Nile the name for the main, western branch of the Nile between the Ugandan–Sudanese border and its confluence with the Blue Nile at Khartoum.
White Paper in the UK, a government report giving information or proposals on an issue; (prior to 1940), an Order Paper of the House of Commons which was a corrected and revised version of one (a Blue Paper) issued earlier the same day.
white plague an archaic term for tuberculosis, reflecting the perception of it as a widespread and often fatal disease.
White Rabbit a character in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865), who was always running from fear of being late; his typical ejaculation is ‘Oh my ears and whiskers!’
White Raja the name given to any of the three Rajas belonging to the English family of Brooke who ruled Sarawak from 1841 to 1941.
white rose the emblem of the House of York in the Wars of the Roses or (later) of Yorkshire, directly opposed to the red rose of Lancaster. In the 18th century, the white rose was adopted as an emblem by the Jacobites.
White Russian a Belorussian; an opponent of the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War.
White Sands an area of white gypsum salt flats in central New Mexico, designated a national monument in 1933. It is surrounded by a large missile-testing range, which, in 1945, as part of the Manhattan Project, was the site of the detonation of the first nuclear weapon.
White Ship the name of the ship which in November 1120 foundered in the channel with the loss of nearly all on board, including Henry I's only legitimate son.
White Sister a member of the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa, founded in 1869 to assist the White Fathers, or of the Congregation of the Daughters of the Holy Ghost, founded in 1706 in Brittany.
white slave a white person treated like a slave, especially a woman tricked or forced into prostitution, typically one taken to a foreign country for this purpose; the term is first recorded in the debates of the US Congress, 13 May 1789.
white stone traditionally used as a memorial of a happy day; mark with a white stone, meaning regard as specially fortunate or happy, derives from this.
White Surrey the name of Richard III's horse, which he rode at the battle of Bosworth.
White Tower the keep which is the oldest part of the Tower of London.
white van man an aggressive male driver of a delivery or workman's van (typically white in colour).
white wedding a wedding at which the bride wears a formal white dress, traditionally as a sign of virginity.
White Wednesday a Eurosceptic name for Black Wednesday.
white witch a person, typically a woman, who practises magic for altruistic purposes, one who practises white magic.

See also angry white male, big white chief, white crow, show the white feather, men in white coats, two blacks don't make a white, whited.


views updated May 14 2018

white / (h)wīt/ • adj. 1. of the color of milk or fresh snow, due to the reflection of most wavelengths of visible light; the opposite of black: a sheet of white paper. ∎  approaching such a color; very pale: her face was white with fear. ∎ fig. morally or spiritually pure; innocent and untainted: he is as pure and white as the driven snow. ∎  (of a plant) having white flowers or pale-colored fruit. ∎  (of a tree) having light-colored bark. ∎  (of wine) made from white grapes, or dark grapes with the skins removed, and having a yellowish color. ∎ Brit. (of coffee or tea) served with milk or cream. ∎  (of glass) transparent; colorless. ∎  (of bread) made from a light-colored, sifted, or bleached flour. 2. (also White) belonging to or denoting a human group having light-colored skin (chiefly used of peoples of European extraction): a white farming community. ∎  of or relating to such people: white Australian culture. 3. hist. counter-revolutionary or reactionary. Contrasted with red (sense 2).• n. 1. white color or pigment: garnet-red flowers flecked with white | the woodwork was an immaculate white. ∎  white clothes or material: he was dressed from head to foot in white. ∎  (whites) white clothes, esp. as worn for playing tennis, or as naval uniform, or in the context of washing: wash whites separately. ∎  white wine. ∎  (White) the player of the white pieces in chess or checkers. ∎  the white pieces in chess. ∎  a white thing, in particular the white ball (the cue ball) in billiards. ∎  the outer part (white when cooked) that surrounds the yolk of an egg; the albumen. ∎  white bread: tuna on white. 2. the visible pale part of the eyeball around the iris. 3. (also White) a member of a light-skinned people, esp. one of European extraction. 4. a white or cream butterfly that has dark veins or spots on the wings. It can be a serious crop pest. • Pieris and other genera, family Pieridae. See also cabbage white.• v. [tr.] archaic paint or turn (something) white: your passion hath whited your face.PHRASES: bleed someone/something white drain someone or something of wealth or resources.whited sepulcher poetic/lit. a hypocrite.white man's burden the task that white colonizers believed they had to impose their civilization on the black inhabitants of their colonies.whiter than white extremely white. ∎  morally beyond reproach.PHRASAL VERBS: white out (of vision) become impaired by exposure to sudden bright light. ∎  (of a person) lose color vision as a prelude to losing consciousness.white something out1. obliterate a mistake with white correction fluid. ∎  cover one's face or facial blemishes completely with makeup. 2. impair someone's vision with a sudden bright light.DERIVATIVES: white·ly adv.white·ness n.whit·ish adj.


views updated May 29 2018

white adj. OE. hwīt = OS. hwīt, OHG. (h)wīʒ (G. weiss), ON. hvítr, Goth. hweits :- Gmc. *χwītaz (cf. with short vowel (M)Du., (M)LG. wit); f. IE. *k̂wit-, *k̂wid-, found also in Skr. and Balto-Sl. words denoting brightness or light. Comps. whitebait small fry of fish XVIII; white friar Carmelite XV; white-livered cowardly (having, acc. to popular belief, a liver lacking bile or choler) XVI; whitesmith worker in metal XIV; whitethorn hawthorn XIII; whitethroat warbler XVII; whitewash plaster with a white composition XVI; hence sb. XVII.
Hence white vb. †become or make white OE.; whitewash XII. whiten (-EN6) XIII.