mean 2 (mēn)
adj. mean·er, mean·est
a. Lacking in kindness; unkind: The teacher was not being mean in asking you to be quiet.
b. Cruel, spiteful, or malicious: a mean boy who liked to make fun of others.
c. Expressing spite or malice: gave me a mean look.
d. Tending toward or characterized by cruelty or violence: mean streets.
e. Extremely unpleasant or disagreeable: the meanest storm in years.
2. Ignoble; base: a mean motive. See Synonyms at base2.
3. Miserly; stingy: mean with money.
a. Low in value, rank, or social status: "I preferred the condition of the meanest reptile to my own" (Frederick Douglass).
b. Common or poor in appearance; shabby: "The rowhouses had been darkened by the rain and looked meaner and grimmer than ever" (Anne Tyler).
a. Hard to cope with; difficult or troublesome: He throws a mean fast ball.
b. Excellent; skillful: She plays a mean game of bridge.
[Middle English, from Old English gemǣne, common; see mei-1 in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.