1. An earnest request; an appeal: spoke out in a plea for greater tolerance.
2. An excuse; a pretext: "[The] colonel ... hid first behind a stump and then worked his way to the rear on the plea of a sore back" (William Marvel).
a. The defendant's answer to a formal criminal charge: entered a plea of not guilty.
b. A defendant's answer in a civil action.
c. A special answer in an equity action, setting forth in lieu of a detailed response a basis for dismissing, delaying, or barring the suit.
d. A legal proceeding.
[Middle English plai, lawsuit, from Old French plai, plaid, from Late Latin placitum, decree, from Latin, from neuter past participle of placēre, to please; see plāk-1 in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 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:
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.