We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out moreJump to Main NavigationJump to Content
  • Text size: A
  • A

Adonis, n.

Frequency (in current use): 
Origin: From a proper name. Etymon: proper name Adōnis.
Etymology: < classical Latin Adōnis, the name of the son of Cinyras, loved by Venus, slain by a wild boar, in post-classical Latin also handsome young man, kind of (crimson) flower (both 4th cent.) < ancient Greek Ἀδώνις  , name of the son of Cinyras, loved by Aphrodite, in Hellenistic Greek also favourite, darling < Phoenician 'dn   (probably adōn  ; also in later inscriptions written in Greek letters as ΑΔΟΥΝ  ), title given to various Phoenician and Canaanite gods, especially to Tammuz (see Thammuz n.), specific use of 'dn   lord, master, cognate with Hebrew 'ādōn   (see Adonai n.). Compare Middle French, French adonis handsome young man (1565), the plant pheasant's eye (1615, also (in later use) denoting any plant of the Eurasian genus Adonis).
The story of Adonis is told in e.g. Ovid Metamorphoses 10.
With adonis flower at sense 3   compare post-classical Latin flos Adonis   (1557 or earlier). With sense 4   compare scientific Latin adonis, specific name of a butterfly (1775).
 I. General senses.

 1. A beautiful or handsome young man. Cf. Venus n.1 4.With allusion to the beautiful Adonis of classical myth, lover of Venus (Aphrodite).

?1571   tr. G. Buchanan Detectioun Marie Quene of Scottes sig. Kii.v   With hir faire Adonis [L. cum suo Adonide] she visiteth noble mens houses.
1622   J. Mabbe tr. M. Alemán Rogue ii. ii. 21   My Master..made me another Adonis, in the neatnesse and gallantry of my cloathes, and delicacie of Perfumes.
a1640   P. Massinger Parl. of Love (1976) ii. ii. 48   A leaper..in respect of thee, Appeares a younge Adonis.
1709   C. Gildon Golden Spy 134   With it [sc. Gold] the most worthless Wretch was an Adonis, without it the most meritorious had no Charm.
1765   A. Tucker Light of Nature I. 457   Two such Adonises talking so sweetly of our reciprocal passion!
1847   A. Brontë Agnes Grey xv. 230   My beau must be an Adonis indeed, Matilda, the admired of all beholders, if I am to be contented with him alone.
1888   A. C. Gunter Mr. Potter viii   George! in a month this chap 'll be an Adonis.
1947   M. P. Willcocks True-born Englishman xiv. 154   Joseph, who has been in the country a bird-scarer, a kennel boy, a stable lad and a jockey, is now an Adonis of a footman.
1998   Gay Times Aug. 81/3   Clicking home in his stilettoes, he is suddenly surrounded by a group of blonde Adonises.

?1571—1998(Hide quotations)


 2. A type of long, full wig, typically worn by men and popular in the 18th cent. More fully Adonis wig. Now hist.

1734   Gentleman's Mag. Jan. 14/1   I have seen a prim young Fellow with a Cue or an Adonis, as they call the effeminate Wigs of the present Vogue, plaister'd rather than powder'd, and appearing like the Twigs of a Gooseberry-Bush in a deep Snow.
1760   H. Walpole Let. 13 Nov. (1891) III. 361   He had a dark brown adonis, and a cloak of black cloth, with a train of five yards.
1773   R. Graves Spiritual Quixote I. iii. xix. 189   A fine flowing Adonis or white periwig.
1831   Lady's Bk. Dec. 314/2   A small mysterious-looking bandbox..contained an improved edition of the brown Adonis, the millefleured curls of which were evidently addressed to Lady Isabella's captivation.
1852   New Monthly Mag. June 165   Mister Leonidas Lomax..disports himself, padded, pinched, painted, with an Adonis wig and a pair of fixed spurs.
1923   A. M. Samuel Mancroft Ess. 141   It was the flowing Adonis which made a special appeal to those who aimed at looking young.
2006   J. Zimmerman Women of House xii. 240   Barbers trumpeted their expertise in advertisements touting ‘the comet’, ‘the cauliflower’, ‘the staircase’, and ‘the Adonis’.

1734—2006(Hide quotations)

 II. In the names of plants and animals.

 3. Originally: the plant pheasant's eye, Adonis annua (also adonis flower). In later use also: any plant of the Eurasian genus Adonis (family Ranunculaceae), comprising plants with finely divided foliage and orange, yellow, or red flowers; (also in form Adonis) the genus itself.Valid publication of the genus name: Linnaeus Species plantarum (1753) I. 547.

1597   J. Gerard Herball ii. 310   The red flower of Adonis groweth wilde in the west parts of Englande among their corne.
a1637   B. Jonson Pans Anniv. 30 in Wks. (1640) III   Bring Corn-flag, Tulips, and Adonis flower, Faire Oxe-eye, Goldy-locks, and Columbine.
1682   N. Grew Disc. Colours of Plants v. iii. §9 in Anat. Plants 276   Spirit of Sulphur droped on the green Leavs of Adonis Flower, Everlasting Pease, and Holy Oak, turns them all Yellow.
1736   Compl. Family-piece ii. iii. 283   Fennel-leav'd perennial Adonis.
1771   Encycl. Brit. I. 27/2   The English names [of the genus Adonis] are, adonis-flower, pheasant's eye, red maithes, or red morocco.
1779   Faremer's Mag. Nov. 341   Adonis Flower... Frequent in the corn-fields of Kent.
1861   A. Pratt Flowering Plants & Ferns Great Brit. I. 14   Adonis (Pheasants' eye)..Name from ‘Adonis’..whose blood was fabled to have stained the flower.
1883   Literary World 8 Sept. 286/1   There are no more roses, nor violet irises, but still great red adonises and other flowers.
1905   Country Life 29 July 116/1   Another plant used in rural fortune-telling is the pretty, but not very common, Adonis flower.
1999   B. J. Ward Contempl. upon Flowers 35   The genus Adonis includes more than twenty species; the two most widely grown are A. vernalis with yellow petals and A. annua with crimson petals.
2007   S. Bales Garden in Winter 99   By summer adonis is dormant, so it should be grown next to a late riser.

1597—2007(Hide quotations)


 4. In full Adonis blue. A small Eurasian lycaenid butterfly, Polyommatus bellargus (formerly Lysandra adonis), the male of which has vivid sky blue wings with white margins.

1795   W. Lewin Insects Great Brit. 80   Adonis. Linnæus. Clifden Blue. Harris.
1810   G. Crabbe Borough viii. 103   There fair Camilla takes her flight serene, Adonis blue, and Paphia silver-queen.
1816   W. Kirby & W. Spence Introd. Entomol. (ed. 2) I. ii. 42   Is it a thing to be lamented that some of the Spitalfields weavers occupy their leisure hours in searching for the Adonis butterfly?
1861   All Year Round 1 June 230/2   The delicate blues of the Mazarine and Adonis.
1869   Hardwicke's Sci.-gossip Nov. 243/1   Another small but brilliant blue butterfly (L. Adonis) bears three vernacular names, viz., the ‘Adonis Blue’, the ‘Cliefden [sic] Blue’ and the ‘Dartford Blue’.
1907   Countryside 15 June 84/3   Of all the little ‘blues’ which flicker about the countryside in summer, the..Adonis blue is the most brilliant.
2000   National Trust Mag. Spring 57/3   At Spyway Farm alone..thousands of Adonis blue butterflies thrived because grazing cattle have kept the vigorous grass short for centuries.

1795—2000(Hide quotations)


This entry has been updated (OED Third Edition, December 2011).

In this entry:

In other dictionaries: