har·​em | \ ˈher-əm How to pronounce harem (audio) \

Definition of harem

1a : a usually secluded house or part of a house allotted to women in some Muslim households
b : the wives, concubines, female relatives, and servants occupying a harem
2 informal : a group of women associated with one man the pop star and his harem
3 : a group of females associated with one male used of polygamous animals Researchers who study elk have determined that the males who possess the largest harems of females not only sport the largest racks of antlers, but also the most symmetrical ones.— Natalie Angier

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In a Muslim household, a harem is a part of a house set apart for women and from which nonfamily males are excluded. Harems existed in the pre-Islamic civilizations of the Middle East and in the courts of pre-Islamic Assyria, Persia, and Egypt. The harem was also found in the courts of China and Japan as well as in India and southeast Asia. Large harems for wives and concubines were common in wealthy Arab households into the 20th century; the great harem of the Turkish sultans (15th–20th century) contained several hundred women, guarded by eunuchs. By the later 20th century, the full harem system remained only among conservative elements of Arab society.

Examples of harem in a Sentence

the pop star and his harem
Recent Examples on the Web In a rather unlikely twist, another myth suggest that cannolo moved from the harem into the nearby convents built in the years that followed, and became popular with the local nuns. Silvia Marchetti, CNN, 13 May 2022 Locals in Wiseman offered that this musk ox might be a lone bull driven from the rest by a more dominant one who stayed north with his harem. Ned Rozell, Anchorage Daily News, 2 Apr. 2022 Cue Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik, rose lovers — Clayton and his harem have moved on to Vienna. Kristen Baldwin, EW.com, 22 Feb. 2022 On shore, a group of females, officially known as a harem, was clustered; one flipped sand onto her body to keep cool. Washington Post, 3 Feb. 2022 In a glass bead necklace excavated in Gurob, Egypt, in an area thought to once have been a harem palace, Shortland and colleagues found the chemical signature associated with Mesopotamia: relatively high levels of chromium. Carolyn Wilke, Smithsonian Magazine, 24 Nov. 2021 Despite rumors of having a male harem, Al-Hakam did marry a Basque concubine named Subh, but reportedly gave her the masculine nickname Jafar. NBC News, 18 Oct. 2021 The picture that has emerged is of an aging emperor, surrounded by a harem of nubile women paid to ornament his dinner table, boost his ego, and dance around in their underpants. Isaac Chotiner, The New Yorker, 12 Aug. 2021 These adventures involve a harem including not only his wife, Cerise (Julie Hagerty), his lover Robin (Jennifer Tilly) and another lover, Rose (Emily Cass McDonnell), but also a fantastical, queenly cat named Blanche. New York Times, 7 July 2021 See More

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

First Known Use of harem

1634, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for harem

ultimately from Arabic ḥarīm, literally, something forbidden & ḥaram, literally, sanctuary

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Dictionary Entries Near harem

harelipped bat



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Last Updated

19 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Harem.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/harem. Accessed 27 May. 2022.

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