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well-being, n.

Brit. Hear pronunciation/ˌwɛlˈbiːɪŋ/
Hear pronunciation/ˈwɛlbɪɪŋ/
U.S. Hear pronunciation/ˈwɛlˌbiɪŋ/
Hear pronunciation/ˌwɛlˈbiɪŋ/
Frequency (in current use):  Show frequency band information
Origin: Formed within English, by compounding; originally modelled on an Italian lexical item. Etymons: well adv., being n.
Etymology: < well adv. + being n., originally after Italian benessere (a1527; 1560 in the passage translated in quot. 1561).
Compare Middle French, French bienêtre   (1555), Spanish bienestar   (a1250), post-classical Latin bene esse   (from 13th cent. in British and continental sources).
Compare earlier welfare n.
The pronunciation with main stress on the second syllable is now the preferred one in British usage and is recorded as such in 20th-cent. British pronouncing dictionaries. The variant with first-syllable stress is the only one given in N.E.D. (1926), and predominates in U.S. usage.

 1. With reference to a person or community: the state of being healthy, happy, or prosperous; physical, psychological, or moral welfare.

1561   T. Hoby tr. B. Castiglione Courtyer iii. sig. Gg.iv   I will not nowe speake of the profit that the worlde hath by women beeside the bearinge of children, for it is well inoughe declared howe necessarye they be, not onlye to oure beeinge [It. esser], but also to oure well beeinge [It. ben esser].
a1613   T. Overbury Wife (1614) sig. B3   Man did but the well-being of this life From woman take, her Being she from Man.
1639   J. Woodall Surgeons Mate (rev. ed.) Pref. sig. A5   So many waies in use for the health and wel-being of mankinde.
1646   J. Benbrigge Vsvra Accommodata 8   The publicke-Weale wherein our owne Being, and Well-being are wrapped up.
1705   F. Fuller Medicina Gymnastica 33   An erect Position is essential to the well being of the Body of Man.
1713   G. Berkeley in Guardian 5 Aug. 2/1   That Behaviour which best suits with the common Well-being.
1756   C. Lucas Ess. Waters i. 168   Water..is necessary to the well being of man in all ages.
1837   J. G. Lockhart Mem. Life Scott IV. iv. 121   That paternal solicitude for the wellbeing of his rural dependants.
1865   E. B. Pusey Eirenicon 38   A body of faith,..which to ‘know and believe’, essential to the well-being of all Christians.
1883   J. M. Fothergill Indigestion 275   Most healthy persons feel..a sense of well-being after a meal.
1912   L. Beesley Loss of SS Titanic viii. 248   The thing is a defect in human life of to-day—thoughtlessness for the well-being of our fellow-men.
1929   L. E. H. Whitby Nurses' Handbk. Hygiene (ed. 2) i. 17   It is the ultra-violet rays (U.V.R.) which are responsible for the bronzing of the skin and the general feeling of well-being which is familiar to all after a summer holiday.
2012   Church Times 13 Jan. 3/3   Family relationships were the most important contributor to children's well-being.

1561—2012(Hide quotations)


 2. With reference to a thing: good or safe condition, ability to flourish or prosper.

1573   R. Lever Arte of Reason iv. 156   Some are so necessary that the whole can haue no being without them: some are very necessary partes to the well being of an whole, and yet not so necessary but that it may haue a being without them.
1653   O. Ll. Despised Virgin Beautified 4   The antient Common-wealths men, who had begun to set forth the beauty and vertue of that Virgin, were not only disheartned, but many of them destroyed in their estates, for their fidelity to the grand interest of the well-being of the Plantation.
1702   E. Calamy Abridgm. Baxter's Life & Times vii. 137   He says, That Imposition of Hands is..a proper means necessary not to the Being, but the Well-being of Ordination.
1836   C. Dickens Pickwick Papers (1837) xxii. 228   His loudly-expressed anxiety at every stage, respecting the safety and well-being of the two bags, the leather hat-box, and the brown paper parcel.
1849   J. Ruskin Seven Lamps Archit. Introd. 4   The principles necessary to the well being of the art.
1918   Pop. Sci. Monthly June 944   Procedure such as this, however, is extremely detrimental to the well-being of the springs.
1959   Life 18 May (verso front cover) (advt.)    The well-being of your hair, the natural look of Miss Clairol color are their chief concerns.
2001   Water Gardening Oct. 32/2   Also known as oxygenating plants, submerged aquatics are, in fact, essential for the well being of your pond.

1573—2001(Hide quotations)


 3. In plural. Individual instances of personal welfare.

1643   W. Prynne Soveraigne Power Parl. sig. A2v   The Goodnesse, the Commonnesse of the Cause, (which concernes our whole three Kingdomes, Parliaments, Religion, and every one of our well-beings, in this present world).
a1672   Bp. J. Wilkins Of Princ. Nat. Relig. (1675) 207   He is the Author of our beings and our well-beings.
1714   J. Fortescue-Aland in J. Fortescue Governance of Eng. Pref. 4   So that it may be said with Justice, that we owe our Beings to God, and under him our Well-beings to the Law.
1864   Dental Reg. West 18 381   Other pursuits and avocations of life, far less intimately connected with the comfort and well-beings of humanity, seem by their own spontaniety to be more and more flowing into utilitarian channels.
1933   Jrnl. Educ. Sociol. 7 115   The social sciences, seeking to interpret the collective well-beings of men.
1962   E. Bodenheimer in C. J. Friedrich Public Interest xvii. 207   We are also able to evaluate our interests as responsible members of a social group whose personal well-beings cannot be wholly dissociated from the well-being of the community to which we belong.
2012   South Wales Echo (Nexis) 27 Nov. 5   The twirling, twinkling displays in shop windows acting as some sort of hypnotic lighthouse for spendaholics does make me fear for all our fiscal well-beings.

1643—2012(Hide quotations)


This entry has been updated (OED Third Edition, December 2014; most recently modified version published online December 2021).