chat·​tel | \ˈcha-tᵊl \

Definition of chattel 

1 : an item of tangible movable or immovable property except real estate and things (such as buildings) connected with real property

2 : slave, bondman slaveholders who were determined to hold on to their human chattel

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Synonyms & Antonyms for chattel


bondman (also bondsman), slave, thrall



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What is the Difference Between chattel and slave?

The word chattel is encountered in two main senses. The earlier of the two is primarily technical and refers to property, specifically property that is distinct from real estate holdings. The second meaning of chattel can excite considerable emotion, as it refers to humans as property, i.e., slaves. Chattel, slave and the less common bondman and thrall are all synonyms for a person held in servitude by another. Chattel and cattle both come to English from the same source: each is descended from the Medieval Latin word capitale, which itself traces to the Latin caput meaning “head.”

Examples of chattel in a Sentence

at one time, the children of black slaves were also considered chattel packed up all her chattels and moved to a new state

Recent Examples on the Web

In terms of distinguishing the two, conversion contemplates more consequential inference or damage than does trespass to chattels. Michael Mccann,, "Should the NCAA Be Worried About the Lawsuit It's Facing From Former Louisville Players?," 12 July 2018 The Constitution itself was drafted to preserve the ownership of Black and Brown human beings through the chattel slave economy. Chase Strangio, Teen Vogue, "The Supreme Court Has Long Been a Tool of Oppression," 3 July 2018 Conversion and trespass to chattels concern a defendant intentionally interfering, destroying or damaging the defendant’s personal property. Michael Mccann,, "Should the NCAA Be Worried About the Lawsuit It's Facing From Former Louisville Players?," 12 July 2018 The facts behind Thanksgiving, chattel slavery, the civil war, internment camps, mass incarceration, and even the national anthem are all sanitized for over-the-counter consumption, available in chewable vitamin form at a drugstore near you. Vic Mensa, Teen Vogue, "Vic Mensa: Don't Ask Me to Love America When It Doesn't Love Me," 4 July 2018 Abolitionists had no difficulty defending the morality of their position, given the horrors of chattel slavery. Sarah Jones, The New Republic, "Who Would Jesus Lock Up?," 15 June 2018 Confederate statues, Confederate flags, human-chattel-owning Founding Fathers? John Kelly, Washington Post, "Naming rights — and wrongs: Montgomery students reveal uncomfortable truths," 21 May 2018 Their husbands were chosen for them in what was often a contract—the woman passed from a sheltered childhood to becoming a chattel of her husband, a possession, like his riding boots and bottles of port. Diane Atkinson, Time, "Meghan Markle Should Walk Down the Aisle Alone and Not Pass From One 'Owner' to Another," 18 May 2018 The Pennimans maintain that UH treated their embryos as chattel, or property, and has only offered to reimburse them for the production of the embryos, not for the loss of a potential son or daughter. James F. Mccarty,, "Judge's order consolidates more than 40 lawsuits filed against UH fertility clinic into a single case," 24 Apr. 2018

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

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for chattel

Middle English chatel property, from Anglo-French — more at cattle

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Time Traveler for chattel

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

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English Language Learners Definition of chattel

: something (such as a slave, piece of furniture, tool, etc.) that a person owns other than land or buildings


chat·​tel | \ˈchat-ᵊl \

Legal Definition of chattel 

: an item of tangible or intangible personal property especially : chattel personal in this entry

Note: In some jurisdictions the term chattel is restricted to items of tangible and movable personal property. Other jurisdictions also classify intangible assets and property items as chattels.

chattel personal plural chattels personal

: an item of tangible movable personal property (as livestock or an automobile) that is not permanently connected with real estate

chattel real plural chattels real

: an interest (as a leasehold or profit a prendre) in an item of immovable property (as land or a building) that is less than a freehold estate — compare fixture

Note: Interests that are considered chattels real have been treated by the common law as personal property despite being interests in real property.

History and Etymology for chattel

Old French chatel goods, property, from Medieval Latin capitale, from neuter of capitalis chief, principal — see capital

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Comments on chattel

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a private place of worship

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