Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A difficult or painful experience, especially one that severely tests character or endurance. See Synonyms at trial.
  • n. A method of trial in which the accused was subjected to physically painful or dangerous tests, the result being regarded as a divine judgment of guilt or innocence.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A painful or trying experience.
  • n. A trial in which the accused was subjected to a dangerous test (such as ducking in water), divine authority deciding the guilt of the accused.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. An ancient form of test to determine guilt or innocence, by appealing to a supernatural decision, -- once common in Europe, and still practiced in the East and by savage tribes.
  • n. Any severe trial, or test; a painful experience.
  • adj. Of or pertaining to trial by ordeal.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. A form of trial to determine guilt or innocence, formerly practised in Europe, and still in parts of the East and by various savage tribes.
  • n. A severe trial; trying circumstances; a severe test of courage, endurance, patience, etc.
  • n. Synonyms Proof, experiment, touchstone.
  • Pertaining to trial by ordeal.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a severe or trying experience
  • n. a primitive method of determining a person's guilt or innocence by subjecting the accused person to dangerous or painful tests believed to be under divine control; escape was usually taken as a sign of innocence

Etymologies

Alteration (influenced by deal1) of Middle English ordal, trial by ordeal, from Old English ordāl.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Middle English *ordel, ordal, from Old English ordēl, ordāl ("ordeal, judgement"), from Proto-Germanic *uzdailaz (“judgement”, literally "an out-dealing"), equivalent to or- +‎ deal. Cognate with West Frisian oardiel ("judgement"), Dutch oordeel ("judgement, discretion"), German Urteil ("judgement, verdict"). (Wiktionary)

Examples

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