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Borrowed from Anglo-Norman engine, Old French engin ("skill, cleverness, war machine"), from Latin ingenium ("innate or natural quality, nature, genius, a genius, an invention, (in Late Latin) a war-engine, battering-ram"), from ingenitum, past participle of ingign? ("to instil by birth, implant, produce in"). Compare gin, ingenious.



engine (plural engines)

  1. A large construction used in warfare, such as a battering ram, catapult etc. [from 14th c.]
  2. (now archaic) A tool; a utensil or implement. [from 14th c.]
    • 1714, Bernard Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees:
      Flattery must be the most powerful Argument that cou'd be used to Human Creatures. Making use of this bewitching Engine, they extoll'd the Excellency of our Nature above other Animals [...].
    • 1733, [Alexander Pope], An Essay on Man. [...], epistle I, London: Printed for J[ohn] Wilford, [...], OCLC 960856019, lines 248-251, page 15:
      What if the Foot, ordain'd the dust to tread, / Or Hand, to toil, aspir'd to be the Head? / What if the Head, the Eye, or Ear repin'd / To serve mere Engines to the ruling Mind?
  3. A complex mechanical device which converts energy into useful motion or physical effects. [from 16th c.]
  4. A person or group of people which influence a larger group; a driving force. [from 16th c.]
  5. The part of a car or other vehicle which provides the force for motion, now especially one powered by internal combustion. [from 19th c.]
  6. A self-powered vehicle, especially a locomotive, used for pulling cars along a track. [from 19th c.]
  7. (computing) A software or hardware system responsible for a specific technical task (usually with qualifying word). [from 20th c.]
    a graphics engine; a physics engine
  8. (obsolete) Ingenuity; cunning, trickery, guile. [13th-17th c.]
  9. (obsolete) The result of cunning; something ingenious, a contrivance; (in negative senses) a plot, a scheme. [13th-18th c.]
    • 1590, Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, II.i:
      Therefore this craftie engine he did frame, / Against his praise to stirre vp enmitye [...].
  10. (obsolete) Natural talent; genius. [14th-17th c.]
  11. Anything used to effect a purpose; any device or contrivance; an agent.
    • Bunyan
      You see the ways the fisherman doth take / To catch the fish; what engines doth he make?
    • Shakespeare
      Their promises, enticements, oaths, tokens, and all these engines of lust.


Derived terms

Related terms


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout#Translations.


engine (third-person singular simple present engines, present participle engining, simple past and past participle engined)

  1. (transitive, dated) To equip with an engine; said especially of steam vessels.
    Vessels are often built by one firm and engined by another.
  2. (transitive, obsolete) To assault with an engine.
    • (Can we date this quote?) T. Adams.
      to engine and batter our walls
  3. (transitive, obsolete) To contrive; to put into action.
  4. (transitive, obsolete) To rack; to torture.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Chaucer to this entry?)

Further reading


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