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lean 2 (lēn)
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adj. lean·er, lean·est
1.
a. Not fleshy or fat; thin.
b. Containing little fat or less fat relative to a standard: lean hamburger.
2.
a. Not productive or prosperous; meager: lean years.
b. Containing little excess or waste; spare: a lean budget.
c. Thrifty in management, especially by employing just enough people to accomplish a task or do business: "Company leaders know their industries must be lean to survive" (Christian Science Monitor).
3.
a. Metallurgy Low in mineral contents: lean ore.
b. Chemistry Lacking in combustible material: lean fuel.
n.
Meat with little or no fat.

[Middle English lene, from Old English hlǣne.]

leanly adv.
leanness n.

Synonyms: lean2, skinny, scrawny, lank, lanky, gaunt
These adjectives mean lacking excess flesh. Lean emphasizes absence of fat but usually suggests good health: The farmer fattened the lean cattle for market. Skinny and scrawny imply unattractive thinness, as from undernourishment: "His face and belly were so round, and his arms so skinny, that he looked like a dough ball with four sticks stuck into it" (John Green)."He [had] a long, scrawny neck that rose out of a very low collar" (Winston Churchill).
Lank describes one who is thin and tall, and lanky one who is thin, tall, and ungraceful: "He was ... exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders" (Washington Irving).
The boy had developed into a lanky adolescent. Gaunt implies boniness and a haggard appearance; it may suggest illness or hardship: a white-haired pioneer, her face gaunt from overwork.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
 

Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices

    Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:

    Indo-European Roots

    Semitic Roots

    The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.

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