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

Essential Meaning of beacon

1 : a strong light that can be seen from far away and that is used to help guide ships, airplanes, etc.
2 : a radio signal that is broadcast to help guide ships, airplanes, etc. a radio beacon
3 : someone or something (such as a country) that guides or gives hope to others These countries are beacons of democracy. Our nation should be a beacon of/for peace to people around the world. This new medicine is a beacon of hope for/to thousands of people. [=this new medicine gives hope to thousands of people]

Full 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

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 And that's definitely the case with the fourth beacon: Spaceship Earth. Deanne Revel, Better Homes & Gardens, 17 Nov. 2021 Mobley, Cleveland’s beacon of hope, also had a prodigious chasedown block -- originally ruled a goaltend but overturned via replay -- and multiple crunch-time hoops. Chris Fedor, cleveland, 14 Nov. 2021 Fines for those choosing to ride—or walk—beacon-free? Carlton Reid, Forbes, 6 Nov. 2021 Burton, with a passion for light displays, turned his Georgia home into a temporary beacon of celebration of the Atlanta Braves’ World Series championship. Mark Heim |, al, 4 Nov. 2021 Visitors can interact with six 3-foot-tall beacon stations, which each feature an AR component. Kimi Robinson, The Arizona Republic, 3 Nov. 2021 Eventually the police escorted him to a house where the beacon last registered. Heather Kelly, Anchorage Daily News, 28 Oct. 2021 In a time when publications and newsrooms continue to struggle, Robert Sanchez’s tightly curated City Reads account is a beacon on Twitter. Cheri Lucas Rowlands, Longreads, 27 Oct. 2021 The need for America to be a nation of immigrants that is a welcoming beacon of liberty in a violent and warming world is more urgent than ever. Reece Jones, CNN, 27 Oct. 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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The first known use of beacon was in the 14th century

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Last Updated

24 Nov 2021

Cite this Entry

“Beacon.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Dec. 2021.

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More Definitions for beacon


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.

More from Merriam-Webster on beacon

Nglish: Translation of beacon for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of beacon for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about beacon


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