v. spoke (spōk), spo·ken (spōkən), speak·ing, speaks
1. To produce words by means of sounds; talk: Can the baby speak yet?
a. To express thoughts or feelings to convey information in speech or writing: He spoke of his desire to travel. In her poem she speaks about loss.
b. To convey information or ideas in text: Their book speaks about adopting children.
a. To engage in conversation: Can we speak for a few minutes about the assignment?
b. To be friendly or willing to communicate; be on speaking terms: They are no longer speaking.
4. To deliver an address or lecture: The mayor spoke at the rally.
a. To act as spokesperson: I speak for the entire staff.
b. To convey information through another person: The family spoke to the media through their trusted adviser.
a. To convey a message by nonverbal means: Actions speak louder than words.
b. To give an indication or suggestion: His manners spoke of good upbringing.
c. To be appealing: His poetry speaks to one's heart.
7. To make a reservation or request. Used with for: Has anyone spoken for the last piece of pizza?
a. To produce a characteristic sound: The drums spoke.
b. To give off a sound on firing. Used of guns or cannon.
1. To say with the voice; pronounce or utter: She spoke the words with a French accent.
2. To converse in or be able to converse in (a language): speaks German.
3. To express in words; tell: speak the truth.
4. Nautical To hail and communicate with (another vessel) at sea.
5. To convey by nonverbal means: His eyes spoke volumes.
To talk freely and fearlessly, as about a public issue.
1. To speak loud enough to be audible.
2. To speak without fear or hesitation.
so to speak
Used to call attention to a choice of words, and especially to the metaphoric or expressive nature of a word or phrase: can't see the forest for the trees, so to speak.
speak down to
To speak condescendingly to: She never spoke down to her audience.
Reserved or requested: Is that seat spoken for?
to speak of
Worthy of mention: There's nothing new to speak of.
[Middle English speken, from Old English sprecan, specan.]
Synonyms: speak, talk, converse1, discourse
These verbs mean to express one's thoughts by uttering words. Speak and talk, often interchangeable, are the most general: "On an occasion of this kind it becomes more than a moral duty to speak one's mind. It becomes a pleasure" (Oscar Wilde). "If you want to talk about human experience, then let's talk about it" (Deborah Eisenberg).
Converse stresses interchange of thoughts and ideas: "With thee conversing I forget all time" (John Milton).
Discourse usually refers to formal, extended speech: "When there was nothing to say, he discoursed on the nature of silence" (Stacy Schiff).
Word History: Because English is a Germanic language, first-year German produces many moments of recognition for English speakers and several puzzles. For example, when we learn the verb sprechen, "to speak," and the noun Sprache, "speech, language," we wonder whether we lost the r or the Germans put one in. Sounds are more often lost than added in language change, and this is the case here. In Old English the verb was sprecan and the noun sprǣc, both with an r as in German (and in the other Germanic languages). The r-less forms began to appear in the south of England and became common in the 11th century; the forms with r disappeared completely by the middle of the 12th. A similar loss of r after a consonant and before a vowel occurred in the Middle English noun prang and its variant pronge, "severe pain, sharp pain." Pronge survives today as prong (of a pitchfork, for example). The plural of prang appears in a poem composed about 1400 as pangus, "sharp stabs of pain," and survives today as pang, "sharp, stabbing pain."
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
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