Definitions

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

  • transitive v. To smooth or clean (feathers) with the beak or bill.
  • transitive v. To trim or clean (fur) with the tongue, as cats do.
  • transitive v. To dress or groom (oneself) with elaborate care; primp.
  • transitive v. To take pride or satisfaction in (oneself); gloat.
  • intransitive v. To dress up; primp.
  • intransitive v. To swell with pride; gloat or exult.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A pin.
  • n. A bodkin; brooch.
  • n. A forked instrument used by clothiers in dressing cloth.
  • v. To pin; fasten.
  • v. To groom; to trim or dress with the beak, as the feathers.
  • v. To show off, posture, or smarm.
  • v. To trim up, as trees.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A forked tool used by clothiers in dressing cloth.
  • transitive v. To dress with, or as with, a preen; to trim or dress with the beak, as the feathers; -- said of birds.
  • transitive v. To trim up, as trees.
  • transitive v. To dress (oneself) carefully or stylishly; to primp.
  • transitive v. To pride (oneself) on one's accomplishments; to congratulate (oneself).
  • intransitive v. To dress up neatly and smartly; to make oneself well-groomed and well-dressed.
  • intransitive v. To feel proud of one's achievement; to swell or gloat.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. A pin.
  • n. A bodkin; a brooch.
  • n. A forked instrument used by clothiers in dressing cloth.
  • To pin; fasten.
  • To prune or trim, as a tree.
  • To trim, dress, or fix with the beak, as a bird its plumage; plume.

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

  • v. clean with one's bill
  • v. dress or groom with elaborate care
  • v. pride or congratulate (oneself) for an achievement

Etymologies

Middle English proinen, preinen, blend of Old French proignier, to prune; see prune2, and Old French poroindre, to anoint before (por-, before from Latin prō-; see pro-1 + oindre, to anoint from Latin unguere).
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Middle English pren, from Old English prēon ("pin, brooch, clasp, bodkin, fastening"), from Proto-Germanic *preunaz (“awl”), from Proto-Indo-European *bherem- (“protrusion, tip, edge”). Cognate with Dutch priem ("bodkin, broach, prong"), Low German preem ("pin, spike, awl"), German Pfriem ("awl"), Danish pren ("bodkin, stylus"), Icelandic prjónn ("pin, knitting-needle"). The verb is from Middle English prenen, from pren ("a preen"). (Wiktionary)
Variant of prune (by influence of preen above) Attested in Chaucer (c. 1395) in the variants preyneth, prayneth, proyneth, prunyht, pruneth. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • Continuing in "preen mode" (we don't do it very often), we note, however, that The Sunday Telegraph – like the Telegraph and Argus the day before – failed to pick up on the EU link, and thus failed to remind us that the bulk of the petty restrictions stem from the implementation of EU law on landfill and recycling.

    The stench of hypocrisy

  • When birds "preen" and try to remove the oil, they can swallow it and be poisoned.

    Scientists watch for environmental effects of Gulf of Mexico oil spill

  • I don't cite Ernesto to brag well, maybe to "preen".

    Archive 2007-03-01

  • Resolutely unglamorous, Chadsey's young men, no hunks, preen and pose, sometimes grotesquely transformed by superimpositions that seem to be materialized projections of their fantasies, like the vulpine shadow in "Portrait (Pink Beak)," the black mud luchador mask (or terrorist balaclava) in "Blackface Rod," the dangling penis in the standing/spread-eagled protagonist of "Marines," or the extra sets of arms in the androgynous "Red Head (Shift)."

    ArtScene: This Month's Top Exhibitions in the Western United States

  • The moggies bound off surfaces in super slo-mo as classy piano music plays; they preen, they paw, they nuzzle, then snuggle into shelf space like their species 'very existence depends on it.

    The Hard Sell: Ikea

  • Instead, we allow members of Congress to posture and preen for the cameras.

    Daniel Hough Jones: Compel Congress to Work

  • I suppose there are places in America where such a show might still jolt its viewers, but to see "The Scottsboro Boys" on Broadway is to witness a nightly act of collective self-congratulation in which the right-thinking members of the audience preen themselves complacently at the thought of their own enlightenment.

    A Perilous Page of History to Turn

  • You guys would rather preen in a moral mirror, than actually win.

    Matthew Yglesias » Sleep Deprivation

  • The last thing we want to do is make significant investments in infrastructure that will serve us well into the future, like those fools did during the last depression, when we can be serious and safe and preen about “shovel ready” projects and stuff ...

    Matthew Yglesias » Doing It Low-Tech

  • This was mostly an exercise to make us feel comfortable onstage, but many in our group of saucy broads used their moments in the spotlight to preen.

    Angora Holly Polo: The Burlesque Class

Comments

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  • Swans from Anna Liffey swim down here sometimes to preen themselves. No accounting for tastes.
    Joyce, Ulysses, 8

    January 3, 2007