bea·​con | \ ˈbē-kən How to pronounce beacon (audio) \

Definition of beacon

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a signal fire commonly on a hill, tower, or pole
2a : a lighthouse or other signal for guidance
b : a radio transmitter emitting signals to guide aircraft
3 : a source of light or inspiration … the beacon to the oppressed of all countries …— Adrienne Koch


beaconed; beaconing; beacons

Definition of beacon (Entry 2 of 2)

intransitive verb

: to shine as a beacon … Adventure beaconed from far off, and his heart leapt to greet the light.— Maurice Hewlett

transitive verb

: to furnish with a signal or a source of light or inspiration : to furnish with a beacon

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Synonyms & Antonyms for beacon

Synonyms: Noun

Synonyms: Verb

Antonyms: Verb

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Examples of beacon in a Sentence

Noun These countries are beacons of democracy. Our nation should be a beacon of peace to people around the world. Verb a lone lighthouse beacons the entrance to the island's only harbor
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Beavertail Lighthouse overlooks it all, casting its beacon 15 miles across the water to warn ships about the shoals., 26 May 2021 Dautartas, known for her humor, kept everyone laughing around her and was a beacon of love, said her daughter Madeleine Dautartas Jr., 64, of Chesterland. Alexis Oatman, cleveland, 20 May 2021 While supporting Minari, Han was a beacon of understated glamour. Lauren Valenti, Vogue, 26 Apr. 2021 And all in a country that was once a beacon of media freedom. John Rash, Star Tribune, 23 Apr. 2021 The latest funding round for Travis Montaque’s AI messaging company, Holler, is a beacon of hope for Black founders who often receive less than 1 percent of total VC funding. Kimberly Wilson, Essence, 5 Apr. 2021 That goes to the heart of the simple-minded but wise perception that America should be a beacon. Angela Dawson, Forbes, 1 Mar. 2021 But in recent years, its beacon had begun to flicker. New York Times, 29 Jan. 2021 Built on land that had been the once-grand White City amusement park, Parkway Gardens was a beacon for Black middle-class dreams, as the nation’s first and only housing cooperative run by Black families. William Lee,, 13 May 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb The thumb drives would beacon back to her Black Hills colleagues and give them access to the prison's systems. Lily Hay Newman, Wired, 26 Feb. 2020 Find My Friends seemed to offer me no warning whatsoever that its settings had been changed to beacon my location to her in real-time. Andy Greenberg, WIRED, 2 July 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'beacon.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of beacon


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1650, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense

History and Etymology for beacon


Middle English bekene, bikene, bekyn "signal fire, banner," going back to Old English bēacen "sign, portent, outward mark or appearance, standard, banner, monument, audible signal, signal fire," going back to West Germanic *baukna- (whence also Old Frisian bēken, bāken "sign, signal fire," Old Saxon bōkan "sign," Middle Dutch baken,(North Holland) beeken "signal, signal fire," boken "sign," Old High German bouhhan "sign, nod, portent, foreshadowing, banner," Old Norse bákn "sign" [probably borrowed from West Germanic]), of uncertain origin

Note: The older speculation on an origin for the Germanic etymon is discussed exhaustively by Anatoly Liberman in An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology: An Introduction (University of Minnesota Press, 2008), pp. 3-9. Among the conjectures are descent from Indo-European *bheh2- "shine, give light, appear" (see fantasy entry 1), *bhou̯gh- "bend" (see bow entry 1), or *bherǵ- "shining" (see bright entry 1), with varying ablaut grades, root enlargements and degrees of phonetic attrition; and borrowing from Latin būcina "horn, trumpet" (used as a signal). Liberman's own hypothesis depends crucially on forms without -(V)n, as early modern Dutch baeck "beacon, lighthouse," claimed to be Middle Dutch by De Vries ("reeds m[iddel]n[eder]l[ands]") and van Wijk ("zeldzame vorm"), and Low German bak, bake. (M. Philippa, et al., Etymologisch Woordenboek van het Nederlands, on line at, have it no earlier than 1559.) Liberman rejects the idea that these later words are simply shortened from the forms with n. Since *bak-/bāk- and *baukn- cannot be reconciled by ablaut rules, he hypothesizes that they are part of a large network of Germanic words built from the consonantal frame b-g/b-k that denote "objects capable of inflating themselves and making noise" (p. xxxiii). The Germanic etymon would hence have originally denoted a floating object (a bladder?) marking a channel, whence it was generalized to denote any kind of signal. The specific form *baukn- was formed by analogy with the semantically close derivative *taikn- "sign" (see token entry 1). Though the existence of the group of affective words that Liberman postulates seems highly probable, his inclusion of *baukn- in the group is questionable. Most notably, the forms alleged to have original short or long a are extant only in the coastal languages, Dutch and Low German, that could have borrowed the word from Frisian, where *-ā- is historically the regular outcome of *-au-. It would seem preferable to devise a way to delete the n (back-formation from a plural?) than to depend on a string of speculative semantic shifts ("inflated object that makes noise when squeezed" > "object that floats" > "float, buoy" > "marker, signal") to account for the words, even if this would continue to deprive us of an etymology. West Germanic *baukna- is not treated in G. Kroonen, Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic (Brill, 2013).


verbal derivative of beacon entry 1

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Time Traveler for beacon

Time Traveler

The first known use of beacon was in the 14th century

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Last Updated

9 Jun 2021

Cite this Entry

“Beacon.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 Jun. 2021.

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More Definitions for beacon



English Language Learners Definition of beacon

: a strong light that can be seen from far away and that is used to help guide ships, airplanes, etc.
: a radio signal that is broadcast to help guide ships, airplanes, etc.
: someone or something (such as a country) that guides or gives hope to others


bea·​con | \ ˈbē-kən How to pronounce beacon (audio) \

Kids Definition of beacon

1 : a guiding or warning light or fire on a high place
2 : a radio station that sends out signals to guide aircraft
3 : someone or something that guides or gives hope to others These countries are beacons of democracy.


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