Definition of poison in English:

Share this entry


Pronunciation: /ˈpoiz(ə)n/


1A substance that is capable of causing the illness or death of a living organism when introduced or absorbed.
Example sentences
  • Second-hand smoke contains about 4,000 chemicals, 200 poisons, and over 40 cancer-causing compounds.
  • Because of ‘chemical drift’ those poisons are carried by the wind into towns and cities.
  • The idea of using ‘friendly’ bacteria to combat poisons has been around for a number of years and is already used in animals such as pigs and chickens.
toxin, toxicant, venom
archaic bane
1.1 Chemistry A substance that reduces the activity of a catalyst.
1.2 Physics An additive or impurity in a nuclear reactor that slows a reaction by absorbing neutrons.
1.3A person, idea, action, or situation that is considered to have a destructive or corrupting effect or influence: meanwhile he is spreading his poison over the Internet
More example sentences
  • Keynes' dream to overthrow the classical order of Adam Smith was greatly influenced by Marx's poison.
  • Stupid laws contaminate those charged with enforcing them at the first level and then become exponentially more costly as their poison spreads through other layers of the economy.
  • It takes no time at all for them to spread their poison and to implicate others in what they have done, if only by coverup.
malice, ill will, hate, malevolence, bitterness, spite, spitefulness, venom, acrimony, rancor;
bad influence, cancer, corruption, pollution


[with object]
1Administer poison to (a person or animal), either deliberately or accidentally: he tried to poison his wife swans are being poisoned by lead from anglers' lines (as noun poisoning) symptoms of poisoning may include nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting
More example sentences
  • He tried to poison us like lower animals, like the mice that pester storybook villages, the insects that fly around the heads of those that I read about.
  • Towards the end, as he's dying of an undefined illness, we realize he picks up chicks by poisoning their pets but acting so super nice and stuff.
  • The snake's venom poisoned the wolf and raven's blood.
give poison to;
1.1Adulterate or contaminate (food or drink) with poison.
Example sentences
  • On the Australian mainland, they killed them by giving them poisoned food and clothing contaminated by diseases they had never before experienced.
  • Scary reports are all over the media here in southern California about some nutball who poisoned some baby food.
  • In June 2002, following threats that their food would be poisoned, the men were unable to eat for a period of seven days.
contaminate, put poison in, envenom, adulterate, spike, lace, doctor
pollute, contaminate, taint, blight, spoil
literary befoul
1.2 (usually as adjective poisoned) Treat (a weapon or missile) with poison in order to augment its lethal effect.
Example sentences
  • But this is still not all there is in combat, as you can poison your weapons or arrows to do even more damage.
  • The Sultan's army was primarily light cavalry armed with crossbows that shot poisoned arrows.
  • I was especially wary of them this time, now that I knew their swords were poisoned, and dodged them as they attempted to advance on me.
1.3Prove harmful or destructive to: his disgust had poisoned his attitude toward everyone
More example sentences
  • And, if your opponent is indeed guilty of abusing those around him: It won't be long before he fatally poisons his campaign with destructive behavior.
  • But I simply cannot remain silent and sit here and listen when a party that is trying to attain power at any cost poisons the relationship between the two peoples of this country.
  • Their bitterness poisons their attitude and their outlook on life.
prejudice, bias, jaundice, embitter, sour, envenom, warp, corrupt, subvert
1.4 Chemistry (Of a substance) reduce the activity of (a catalyst).
Example sentences
  • The cells worked well initially, but any traces of carbon monoxide in the hydrogen fuel quickly poisoned the catalyst.
  • The catalysts are easily poisoned by lead, however, which clogs their reactive surfaces.
  • And that soaks into tissue very readily, with the acid part doing its damage along the way, and the fluoride merrily poisoning enzymes and wreaking havoc.


what's your poison?

informal Used to ask someone what they would like to drink.



Pronunciation: /ˈpoiz(ə)nər/
Example sentences
  • Popular, because of its availability, with Victorian poisoners, arsenic also caused some spectacular accidental mass poisonings, notably the Bradford Poisoning.
  • Enforcement agencies and wildlife groups have formed a special unit to track down poisoners responsible for the ‘mindless killing’ of red kites following their re-introduction in Yorkshire.
  • Capsules derived from mussels and garlic have exceeded the legal food limit for arsenic, traditionally used by poisoners.


Middle English (denoting a harmful medicinal drink): from Old French poison 'magic potion', from Latin potio(n-) 'potion', related to potare 'to drink'.

  • A poison does not necessarily need to be in liquid form, but in early use the word meant a drink or medicine, specifically a potion with a harmful or dangerous ingredient. The source was Old French poison ‘magic potion’, from Latin potio, also the source of potion (Middle English). The saying one man's meat is another man's poison has been around for centuries and was being described as long ago as 1604 as ‘that old moth-eaten proverb’. A similar idea is found in the work of the Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius (c.94–55 bc): ‘What is food to one person may be bitter poison to others.’ A chalice (Middle English) from Latin calix, ‘cup’, also the source of the botanical calix) is a large cup or goblet, and a poisoned chalice something that seems attractive but is likely to be a source of problems. A poisoned chalice features in Shakespeare's Macbeth, and is the source of our expression.

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: poi·son

Share this entry

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.