from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun The initial stage of something; the beginning.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun A setting out; beginning; start.
  • noun A tidal current running from the land; the ebb.
  • noun In Scotland, an inclosure from surrounding moorland or common.
  • noun The act of setting off, or ornamenting; that which sets off.
  • noun Outlay; primary outlay; also, in the plural, outgoings; expenses.
  • To set off; ornament; display properly.
  • To put out; set outside.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun A setting out, starting, or beginning.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun the beginning or initial stage of something

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

  • noun the time at which something is supposed to begin


Sorry, no etymologies found.


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  • Onset is used in phrases that relate to the start (time-wise) of something. The onset of spring; the onset of the football season.

    Outset is used more in the sense of beginning (in the sense of making a start). It relates more to the idea of starting something new than to time. I loved him from the outset; from the outset of the war . . .; no one recognized the outset of the depression at the exact time it happened.

    If you think of onset more as the time when something started, and outset at its true beginning, regardless of time, you won't go wrong.

    September 25, 2010