chat·​tel | \ ˈcha-tᵊl How to pronounce chattel (audio) \

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



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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 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 But when considering both U.S. chattel slavery and the Syphilis Study, Best stresses the importance of keeping two things in mind: their length of time, and the accumulation of injustice. Elizabeth Yuko, Rolling Stone, "Why Are Black Communities Being Singled Out as Vaccine Hesitant?," 9 Mar. 2021 New York companies also insured southern slave-owners against the death of their human chattel, while the city’s banks lent money for the purchase of slaves and southern plantation land. New York Times, "Preserving New York’s Ties to the Underground Railroad," 8 Jan. 2021 Incidentally — but maybe not coincidentally — that’s the same passage slave owners once used to convince their chattel to accept their bondage, and Jim Crowe-era preachers used to rationalize segregation. Kyle Whitmire, al, "Jeff Sessions’ hell on Earth," 24 Oct. 2020 Those power dynamics continue to ebb and flow, but never again will content creators be treated as the chattel of the content owners. Bruce Ramer, The Hollywood Reporter, "Olivia de Havilland, and the Lawyer Who Helped Her Change Show Business (Guest Column)," 9 Aug. 2020 In the past three years, three states have changed their divorce statutes to treat pets more as family members than as mere chattel to be divided by couples, like sofas and TVs. Melissa Chan, Time, "Pets Are Part of Our Families. Now They’re Part of Our Divorces, Too," 22 Jan. 2020 Just before the Civil War, 3 of every 4 county inhabitants were human chattel owned by white families. Bobby Caina Calvan,, "Slave cemetery poses questions for Florida country club," 26 Dec. 2019 The insidiousness of chattel slavery, though, was still part of his life. NBC News, "Meet James and Peter Hemings, America's first black celebrity chefs," 13 Feb. 2020 To qualify, farmers must show at least a 30% loss in crop production or a physical loss to livestock, livestock products, real estate or chattel property. Andrew Clark, Indianapolis Star, "Indiana farmers eligible for federal assistance after 'unprecedented' year of losses," 10 June 2019

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

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

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Cite this Entry

“Chattel.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 14 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for chattel



English Language Learners Definition of chattel

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


chat·​tel | \ ˈchat-ᵊl How to pronounce chattel (audio) \

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

More from Merriam-Webster on chattel

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Nglish: Translation of chattel for Spanish Speakers

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