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feeble, adj. and n.

Forms:  ME–15 feble, (ME febele), ME febul(l(e, ME–15 fieble, (ME fyble, 15 fybull), ME–15 feable, febil(l, -yl(e, 16 feoble, 15– feeble. Compar. ME feblore; Superl. ME fyebleste, 15 feobleste.(Show Less)
Frequency (in current use): 
Etymology: < Old French feble, fieble, foible (modern faible  ), later forms of fleible   weak < Latin flēbilis   that is to be wept over (compare flebile adj.), < flēre to weep. Compare Provençal feble, fible, freble, Spanish feble, Portuguese febre, Italian fievole of same origin and meaning.
 A. adj.

 1. Of persons or animals, their limbs or organs: Lacking strength, weak, infirm. Now implying an extreme degree of weakness, and suggesting either pity or contempt. †Const. of, also to with inf.

c1175   Lamb. Hom. 47   Þa bi-com his licome swiðe feble.
?c1225  (▸?a1200)    Ancrene Riwle (Cleo. C.vi) (1972) 203   Ach wast þu hwet awilgeð Monnes feble echnen þet is hechȝe iclumben.
1297   R. Gloucester's Chron. (Rolls) 7665   Þe deneis no mete ne founde..& so þe feblore were.
c1305   St. Christopher 216 in Early Eng. Poems & Lives Saints (1862) 65   Þu ert wel feble to fiȝte.
c1320   Seuyn Sag. (W.) 3450   He was lene and febil of myght.
a1340   R. Rolle Psalter xxxvii. 15   As aran þan þe whilk na thynge is febiler.
c1400   Lanfranc's Cirurg. 311   If the patient be maad feble wiþ medicyns laxativis.
?c1450   Life St. Cuthbert (1891) l. 3607   He was so febill he myght noȝt ga.
1484   Caxton tr. G. de la Tour-Landry Bk. Knight of Tower (1971) xxxiii. 55   And this lady felt her self al wery, and feble of the aduysyon.
?1499   J. Skelton Bowge of Courte (de Worde) sig. Aij,   His hede maye be harde but feble is his brayne.
a1533   Ld. Berners tr. Bk. Duke Huon of Burdeux (1882–7) liv. 182   Huon was mounted on his lene feble horse.
1611   Bible (King James) Gen. xxx. 42   The feebler were Labans.
1645   Milton Passion vii, in Poems 19   Though grief my feeble hands up-lock.
1764   O. Goldsmith Traveller 8   The feeble heart.
1829   T. Hood Dream Eugene Aram in Gem 1 112   A feeble man, and old.
1841   R. W. Emerson Prudence in Ess. 1st Ser. (London ed.) 240   Bring them hand to hand, and they are feeble folk.
?c1225  (▸?a1200)    Ancrene Riwle (Cleo. C.vi) (1972) 163   Þus vre lauerd spareð an earest þe ȝeunge & þe feble.
c1425   Wyntoun Cron. viii. xviii. 92   Rycht oft makis þe febil wycht.
1808   Med. & Physical Jrnl. 19 424   If acidity be troublesome, as often happens to the feeble and dyspeptic.

c1175—1841(Hide quotations)


 a. Of things: Having little strength; weak, frail, fragile; slight, slender. Of a fortress, etc.: Having little power of resistance. Obs.

1340   Ayenbite (1866) 227   Hit is grat wonder þet hi lokeþ zuich ane fieblene castel ase hare fyeble body.
c1384   Chaucer Hous of Fame iii. 42   This were a feble fundament.
a1387   J. Trevisa tr. R. Higden Polychron. (St. John's Cambr.) (1865) I. 235   Hem semede þat þe legges were to feble for to bere suche an ymage.
c1400   Lanfranc's Cirurg. 322   The firste boon in a mannes necke is bounden with manye feble ligaturis.
c1400   Mandeville's Trav. (1839) vii. 80   Before the Chirche of the Sepulcre, is the Cytee more feble than in ony other partie.
1488  (▸c1478)    Hary Actis & Deidis Schir William Wallace (Adv.) (1968–9) xii. l. 1010   Thus semblyt thai about that febill hauld.
1540   Act 32 Hen. VIII c. 18   Some houses be feble and very lyke to fall downe.
1697   Dryden tr. Virgil Georgics i, in tr. Virgil Wks. 54   The Stem, too feeble for the freight.  
1776   W. Withering Brit. Plants (1796) II. 16   Bunches lateral..stem feeble.
1393   J. Gower Confessio Amantis I. 24   The feble meind was with the strong So might it nought wel stonde long.

1340—1776(Hide quotations)


 b. spec. with reference to a sword.  [ < French faible: see B. 4]

1684   R. Howlett School Recreat. 57   The feeble, weak or second Part is accounted from the Middle to the Point.
1809   J. Roland Amateur of Fencing 35   The fort part of your blade against the feeble part of your adversary's.

1684—1809(Hide quotations)


 3. Lacking intellectual or moral strength.

c1200   Trin. Coll. Hom. 191   He..al te-secheð þat þone þe was er swo fieble.
1377   Langland Piers Plowman B. xv. 341   Wherfore folke is þe feblere and nouȝt ferme of bilieue.
a1400–50   Alexander 1710   He þoȝt him sa feble, He dressis to him in dedeyne..a ball..þe barne with to play.
c1440   York Myst. xxiii. 169   Ȝe ffebill of faithe! folke affraied.
1526   Pilgr. Perf. (1531) G b,   We sholde not be ignoraunt, feble & weyke in these..thynges.
1639   Duke of Hamilton in Hamilton Papers (1880) 77,   I shall neuer proue false or feeble.
1692   R. Bentley Boyle Lect. vi. 29   Though we be now miserable and feeble, yet we aspire after eternal happiness.
1828   T. Carlyle in Foreign Rev. 1 135   He was feeble, and without volition.
a1859   Macaulay Misc. Writings (1860) II. 107   Rigid principles often do for feeble minds what stays do for feeble bodies.

c1200—a1859(Hide quotations)


 a. Wanting in resources; ill-supplied, poor. Const. of. Obs.

c1330  (▸?a1300)    Guy of Warwick (Auch.) p. 448   A feble lord þou seruest.
1487  (▸a1380)    J. Barbour Bruce (St. John's Cambr.) xvi. 355   Tharfor he thoucht the cuntre was Febill of men.
1523   Ld. Berners tr. J. Froissart Cronycles I. ccccxlviii. 791   The Duke of Aniowe began to wax feble, bothe of men and of money.

c1330—1523(Hide quotations)


b. Of a grant of money, a meal: Scanty. Obs.

a1513   R. Fabyan New Cronycles Eng. & Fraunce (1516) II. f. cxxxv,   The sayd .iii. Astatys ordeynyd a more feble money than they before hadde made.
1562   W. Turner Bk. Natures Bathes Eng. f. 12, in 2nd Pt. Herball   Ye may go to a feable diner.
a1592   R. Greene Frier Bacon (1594) sig. F2v,   I knew not of the friers feeble fare.

a1513—a1592(Hide quotations)


 a. Of inferior quality, poor, mean. Often said of clothing, food, dwelling, etc. Obs.

c1275   Lutel Soth Serm. 41 in Old Eng. Misc. 188   Boþe heo makeþ feble heore bred and heore ale.
c1290   S. Eng. Leg. I. 15/484   Vpon a seli asse he rod: in feble cloþes also.
c1340   Cursor M. (Trin.) 23100   For here is febul abidynge.
1377   Langland Piers Plowman B. xv. 343   Þe merke of þat mone is good ac þe metal is fieble.
c1420   Pallad. on Husb. i. 292   And fewe or feble grapes in the same Have growe.
1488  (▸c1478)    Hary Actis & Deidis Schir William Wallace (Adv.) (1968–9) vi. l. 452   The man kest off his febill weid off gray.

c1275—1488(Hide quotations)


b. Of a period, event, etc.: Miserable, illstarred, unhappy. Obs.

1297   R. Gloucester's Chron. (Rolls) 6125   Febleliche he liuede al is lif, & deyde in feble deþe.
?a1400   Chester Pl. (Shaks. Soc.) I. 224   In feable tyme Christe yode me froo.
c1540  (▸?a1400)    Destr. Troy 1438   Ffele folke forfaren with a ffeble ende.

1297—c1540(Hide quotations)


c. In moral sense: Mean, base. Obs.

a1325  (▸c1250)    Gen. & Exod. (1968) l. 1072   Wicke and feble was here ðogt.
c1440   Gesta Romanorum (Add. MS.) xvii. 60   To fulfille her wille in feble dede.

a1325—c1440(Hide quotations)

 6. Wanting in energy, force, or effect.

 a. of natural agents, powers, qualities, or operations.

1340   R. Rolle Pricke of Conscience 745   For-whi þe complection of ilk man Was sythen febler þan it was þan.
c1340   Cursor M. (Trin.) 1996   Now is for synne & pride of man þe erþe feblere þen hit was þan.
c1400   Lanfranc's Cirurg. 221   Þan I tastide hir pous & it was wondir feble.
c1400   Lanfranc's Cirurg. 353   In feble men..þou muste use feble medicyns.
a1616   Shakespeare King John (1623) v. iv. 35   The old, feeble, and day-wearied Sunne.  
1671   R. Bohun Disc. Wind 14   Air alone might seeme able to create but a very feoble and languid Wind.
1700   Dryden Chaucer's Palamon & Arcite i, in Fables 6   Some faint Signs of feeble Life appear.
1719   G. London & H. Wise J. de la Quintinie's Compl. Gard'ner (ed. 7) v. iii. 99   We may have some feeble Branches on them.
1794   A. Radcliffe Myst. of Udolpho I. iv. 119   Her [sc. the moon's] light was yet too feeble to assist them.
1806   Med. & Physical Jrnl. 15 438   A feebler action of the poison.
1847   G. P. R. James Woodman v,   He has but feeble health.

1340—1847(Hide quotations)


 b. of the mind, thoughts, etc.

1393   Langland Piers Plowman C. ii. 183   Þat feith with-oute fet ys febelere þan nouht.
c1400   Mandeville's Trav. (Roxb.) xx. 92   My feble witte.
1535   Bible (Coverdale) 2 Esdras v. 14   My mynde was feble and carefull.
a1616   Shakespeare Comedy of Errors (1623) iii. ii. 35   My earthie grosse conceit: Smothred in errors, feeble, shallow, weake.  
1651   T. Hobbes Leviathan iii. xxxiv. 214   My feeble Reason.
1836   J. Gilbert Christian Atonem. ix. 386   The thought of danger would possess but feeble power to resist temptation.

1393—1836(Hide quotations)


 c. of actions, feelings, utterances, etc.

1393   J. Gower Confessio Amantis II. 318   That was a feble dede of armes.
a1400  (▸a1325)    Cursor Mundi (Fairf. 14) l. 14849   A feble counsail ȝe do to dragh.
c1540  (▸?a1400)    Destr. Troy 3189   When the lede hade left of his speche, Fele of þe folke febull it thughten.
1574   J. Baret Aluearie F 325   Feeble orations made to the people, without spirite or life.
a1616   Shakespeare Two Gentlemen of Verona (1623) ii. vii. 10   A true~deuoted Pilgrime is not weary To measure kingdomes with his feeble steps.  
1697   Dryden tr. Virgil Æneis viii, in tr. Virgil Wks. 452   Feeble are the Succours I can send.
1738   J. Wesley Psalms ii. iv,   Shall all their feeble Threats deride.
1801   R. Southey Thalaba I. i. 14   Grief in Zeinab's soul All other feebler feelings overpowered.
1817   J. Mill Hist. Brit. India II. iv. v. 166   The brilliancy of the exploit had no feeble attractions for the imagination of Clive.
1840   C. Thirlwall Hist. Greece VII. 281   A feeble attempt was made by two generals.
1862   Ld. Brougham Brit. Constit. (ed. 3) xii. 164   The feeble conduct which lost Normandy.
1876   G. O. Trevelyan Life & Lett. Macaulay II. iii. 66   He proceeded to reply with a feeble and partial argument.

1393—1876(Hide quotations)


 7. Of an effect, phenomenon, etc.: Faintly perceptible, indistinct.

1860   J. Tyndall Glaciers of Alps i. iii. 30   The effect became more and more feeble, until..it almost wholly disappeared.
1896   P. G. Tait Rec. Adv. in Physical Sci. ix. 215   The feeble bands which cross the comparatively dark space between the spectra.

1860—1896(Hide quotations)


 8. quasi-adv.= feebly adv.

1834   Tucker's Light of Nature Pursued (ed. 3) I. 202   Every one's experience may convince him how feeble she [sc. reason] acts unless [etc.].

1834—1834(Hide quotations)

 B. n.

 1. A feeble person. (Quots. 1631   and 1826   refer to K. Henry IV, iii. ii. 179.)

1340   Ayenbite (1866) 148   Þe guode man and þe wyse bereþ and uor~bereþ alneway þe foles and þe fiebles.
[1631   T. Powell Tom of All Trades (New Shakspere Soc.) 157   The Taylor, who..had thrust himselfe in amongst the Nobilitie..and was so discovered, and handled..from hand to foot, till the Gaurd delivered him at the great Chamber door, and cryed, ‘farewell, good feeble!’
1826   B. Disraeli Vivian Grey II. iv. i. 155   The most forcible of feebles.]
1833   J. S. Mill Let. 10 July (1963) XII. 166   The consequence is they must take the feebles.
1844   B. Disraeli Coningsby I. i. v. 63   Italics, that last resource of the Forcible Feebles.
1896   Daily News 15 June 6/6   The forcible Feebles who control the destinies..of the Party.

1340—1896(Hide quotations)


2. Weakness, feebleness. Obs.Only in phrase for feeble, which may be explained as ellipsis = ‘For feeble that one is’; the substantival character of the sense is thus doubtful.

c1325   Coer de L. 778   That him ne thorst yt not wyte, For febyl his dynt to smyte.
a1400–50   Alexander 4280   Ne for na febill at we fele.
c1540  (▸?a1400)    Destr. Troy 8704   Suche a sorow full sodenly sanke in his hert, þat he fainted for feble.

c1325—c1540(Hide quotations)

1678   A. Behn Sir Patient Fancy i. i. 3   You shall find 'em sway'd by some who have the luck to find their feables.
1694   R. L'Estrange Fables (ed. 6) ccccxcvi. 543   Every Man has his Feeble.
1824   Byron Don Juan: Canto XV xxii. 16   Modesty's my forte, And pride my feeble.

1678—1824(Hide quotations)


 4. Fencing. The portion of a sword from the middle to the point; = foible n. 2.

1645   City Alarum 1   Ther's no good fencing without knowledge of the feeble of your Sword.
1776   G. Semple Treat. Building in Water 54   Like taking a Sword in the feeble of the Point.
1877   Blackie's Pop. Encycl. III. 325/2   It should always be the care of the swordsman to receive the feeble of the enemy's weapon on the forte of his own.

1645—1877(Hide quotations)




  feeble-bodied adj.

1774   O. Goldsmith Hist. Earth VII. 180   The viper..is but a slow, feeble-bodied animal.
1814   Wordsworth Excursion viii. 368   Those gigantic powers..have been compelled To serve the Will of feeble-bodied Man.  

1774—1814(Hide quotations)


  feeble-eyed adj.

1600   E. Fairfax tr. Tasso Godfrey of Bulloigne v. xii. 77   Weake Cupid was too feeble eide To strike him sure.

1600—1600(Hide quotations)


  feeble-framed adj.

1808   Cobbett's Weekly Polit. Reg. XIV. 193   The law gives him so much power over the poor feeble-framed creature.

1808—1808(Hide quotations)


  feeble-hearted adj.

?1548   J. Bale Image Bothe Churches (new ed.) i. sig. Giijv,   If thou be feble harted, saye: Lorde encrease my faythe.
1836   J. H. Newman et al. Lyra Apost. 139   Ere it reach Heaven's gate, Blows frustrate o'er the earth thy feeble-hearted prayer.

?1548—1836(Hide quotations)


  feeble-minded adj.

1534   Bible (Tyndale rev. Joye) 1 Thess. v. 14   Comforte the feble mynded.
1892   Daily News 1 Mar. 3/3   The desirability of better provision being made for the care of ‘feeble-minded’ women.
1908   Rep. Royal Comm. Feeble Minded VIII. 324 in Parl. Papers (Cd. 4202) XXXIX. 159   ‘Feeble-minded’, i.e., persons who may be capable of earning a living under favourable circumstances, but are incapable from mental defect existing from birth or from an early age: (a) of competing on equal terms with their normal fellows; or (b) of managing themselves and their affairs with ordinary prudence.
1963   H. C. Barnard & J. A. Lauwerys Handbk. Brit. Educ. Terms 93   Feeble-minded, a term usually applied to those whose I.Q. is between 55 and 69.

1534—1963(Hide quotations)


  feeble-winged adj.

1634   J. Ford Chron. Hist. Perkin Warbeck i. sig. B4,   Your goodnesse giue large warrant to..My feeble-wing'd ambition.

1634—1634(Hide quotations)


  feeble-mindedness   n.

1619   W. Sclater Expos. 1 Thess. (1630) 481   The Nature of feeble-mindednesse.
a1846   E. Irving in Worcester,   Feeble-Mindedness.

1619—a1846(Hide quotations)