cap·​si·​cum | \ ˈkap-si-kəm How to pronounce capsicum (audio) \

Definition of capsicum

1a : any of a genus (Capsicum) of tropical American herbs and shrubs of the nightshade family widely cultivated for their many-seeded usually fleshy-walled berries

called also pepper

2 : an oleoresin derived from the fruit of some capsicums that contains capsaicin and related compounds and is used medicinally especially as a topical pain reliever

Examples of capsicum in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The second was oleoresin capsicum, or pepper spray. Michelle Theriault Boots, Anchorage Daily News, 10 Apr. 2022 The sheriff's department said deputies first tried to control the situation by using verbal commands before used liquid oleoresin capsicum, which is an irritant. Phil Helsel, NBC News, 16 July 2021 Along with the meat, throw side servings of capsicum, onion, guacamole, sour cream and salsa into a warm, flour tortilla. CNN, 13 Apr. 2021 Capsimax powder: This proprietary blend combines capsicum, caffeine, piperine, and niacin. Norcal Marketing, Chron, 4 Feb. 2021 Into the future again, modern pepper spray (also known as oleoresin of capsicum or OC spray) came into common use in the U.S. in the 1980s. Tim Macwelch, Outdoor Life, 4 Nov. 2020 But Special Operation Response Team members attempted to pry their way into the office with a crow bar and sprayed the room without authorization with oleoresin capsicum, also known as pepper spray, according the report. Bart Jansen, USA TODAY, 19 June 2020 There is the blinding light that’s on 24 hours a day in the cell, and the constant exposure to institutional-grade capsicum spray, known familiarly in riot-control settings as pepper spray. Arthur Longworth, The New Republic, 18 June 2020 The agency last week announced none of their officers used tear gas or capsicum spray (another name for pepper spray). Ledyard King, USA TODAY, 13 June 2020 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'capsicum.' 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 capsicum

1588, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for capsicum

borrowed from New Latin (Linnaeus), earlier, a name for various species of Piper, borrowed from Middle Greek kapsikón, of uncertain origin

Note: The name capsicum was introduced into Renaissance botany by the French physician and botanist Jean Ruel, who, in De medicamentorum compositione (Paris, 1539; Basel, 1540), translated Books 5 and 6 of De methodo medendi/Theurapeutikḕ méthodos by the Byzantine physician Johannes Actuarius/Ioannes Aktuarios (ca. 1275-ca. 1328). Actuarius included kapsikón in a pharmaceutical recipe among other plants ("… item sitezium indicum, capsicum, piper longum, tenue cinamomum") apparently similar in action to ginger and galanga, but seems to indicate nothing further about it. (The Greek text of these two books has never been published.) Earlier, in his botanical and pharmaceutical encyclopedia De natura stirpium libri tres (Paris: Simon de Collines, 1536), p. 380, Jean Ruel alludes to the capsicon of Actuarius as a synonym for cardamom, so called because "… the seeds are arranged in a row, enclosed in a kind of case, as if they are collected in a capsa" ("… semina in ordinem digesta, quibusdam thecis inuoluentibus, quasi capsis congerantur"). This notion that capsicum has something to do with Latin capsa, "case, receptacle," is repeated by many subsequent authors. The botanist Gaspard Bauhin employs capsicum as a synonym for piper, "pepper" (Phytopinax, seu enumeratio plantarum, Basel, 1596, pp. 155-56), which eventually gives rise to the Linnaean usage; he proffers a completely different etymology, from Greek káptein "to gulp down, swallow up": "Kapsikón [Greek letters] Actuario, fortè quod semen comestum mordeat, à káptō [Greek letters] mordeo" ("Kapsikón in Actuarius, perhaps because the seed once eaten causes a sting, from káptō I bite"). Neither Ruel's nor Bauhin's etymologies make sense derivationally, so the origin—as well as the identity—of Actuarius' kapsikón remain obscure, at least until further examination of the original Greek text.

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The first known use of capsicum was in 1588

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Dictionary Entries Near capsicum



capsicum wool

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Last Updated

17 Apr 2022

Cite this Entry

“Capsicum.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for capsicum


cap·​si·​cum | \ ˈkap-si-kəm How to pronounce capsicum (audio) \

Medical Definition of capsicum

1 capitalized : a genus of tropical herbs and shrubs of the nightshade family (Solanaceae) widely cultivated for their many-seeded usually fleshy-walled berries
2 : any plant of the genus Capsicum

called also pepper

3 : the dried ripe fruit of some capsicums (as C. frutescens) used as a gastric and intestinal stimulant


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