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noun (1)

plural leeches
[from its former use by physicians for bleeding patients] : any of numerous carnivorous or bloodsucking usually freshwater annelid worms (class Hirudinea) that have typically a flattened lanceolate segmented body with a sucker at each end
: a hanger-on who seeks advantage or gain
a celebrity surrounded by leeches who only want his money
archaic : physician, surgeon
leechlike adjective


2 of 3


leeched; leeching; leeches

intransitive verb

: to attach oneself to a person as a leech
… she would leech on to him and drain the life out of him.W. L. Gresham

transitive verb

: to bleed by the use of leeches
: to drain the substance of : exhaust
… bankers who had always leeched them white.D. A. Munro


3 of 3

noun (2)

variants or less commonly leach
: either vertical edge of a square sail
: the after edge of a fore-and-aft sail
Choose the Right Synonym for leech

parasite, sycophant, toady, leech, sponge mean a usually obsequious flatterer or self-seeker.

parasite applies to one who clings to a person of wealth, power, or influence or is useless to society.

a jet-setter with an entourage of parasites

sycophant adds to this a strong suggestion of fawning, flattery, or adulation.

a powerful prince surrounded by sycophants

toady emphasizes the servility and snobbery of the self-seeker.

cultivated leaders of society and became their toady

leech stresses persistence in clinging to or bleeding another for one's own advantage.

a leech living off his family and friends

sponge stresses the parasitic laziness, dependence, and opportunism of the cadger.

a shiftless sponge, always looking for a handout

Examples of leech in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web
The 25-person crew set out on a nine-week expedition, according to the report, with the crew facing scares such as malaria, earthquakes and one member having a leech stuck in their eye for 33 hours. Michael Lee, Fox News, 12 Nov. 2023 On a nine-week expedition, a 25-person crew battled malaria and earthquakes, and one student researcher even had a leech stuck in their eye for 33 hours. Natalie Kainz, NBC News, 10 Nov. 2023 In the last two years, the six-person supermajority has embraced a radical view of originalism divorced from history or tradition that would tie the country to the views of property-owning white men who lived at a time when leeches were considered state-of-the-art medical care. Michael Waldman, Foreign Affairs, 24 Oct. 2023 The leech essentially performs as an artificial vein that draws off excess blood until the patient can grow back venous capillaries of their own. Allison Futterman, Discover Magazine, 2 Nov. 2021 Throughout the scene, Alex doesn’t have to do much other than flatten herself to her surroundings to become fluid, to leech, to exploit. The Editors, Vulture, 25 Aug. 2023 Lung squeezes happen when blood leeches from the circulatory system into airways. Amanda Lee Myers, USA TODAY, 5 Aug. 2023 Tied on a jig hook, a balanced leech or wet fly features a heavy bead positioned forward of the eye. Morgan Lyle, Field & Stream, 13 July 2023 People tried to ameliorate M.S. with leeches, quinine, foxglove, tobacco, hemlock, valerian, coffee, tea, being suspended above the ground, vertically, for four minutes at a time, and being wrapped in sheets sprayed with cold water. Rivka Galchen, The New Yorker, 17 July 2023
Narratively, that pivot results in a film that, it must be said, feels leeched of the energy and vigor viewers associate with Scorsese at his most exhilarating. Ann Hornaday, Washington Post, 18 Oct. 2023 That decision is apparently leeching support from independents, and some Republicans, away from Trump. Ellie Quinlan Houghtaling, The New Republic, 18 Oct. 2023 But in cities like St. Louis, which has seen a stark population decline since its heyday in the mid-20th century, some of these older lead pipes remain and have the potential to leech the toxic chemical into the water supply. Rachel Ramirez, CNN, 2 Sep. 2023 The reason, as the movie presents it, is that the culture around him has leeched his authority away. Owen Gleiberman, Variety, 23 Aug. 2023 This Doctor Monro’s violent techniques included—among other creative tortures—dunking George’s head repeatedly into ice-cold water, slapping him, starving him of nutrients, and leeching him. Lauren Puckett-Pope, ELLE, 10 May 2023 If the sale goes through, the young Roys will immediately get to work at undermining the operation while simultaneously leeching off its credibility and pedigree. Justine Harman, Town & Country, 18 Apr. 2023 At what point does professionalizing our personal lives leech them of any spirit or spontaneity? Madeleine Aggeler, New York Times, 4 Apr. 2023 But sometime, possibly during the Silurian (the geologic period spanning 443 million to 416 million years ago) an intrepid creature, likely equipped with sturdy limbs and a set of gas-cycling tubes that could leech oxygen from air, decided to crawl ashore. Katherine J. Wu, Smithsonian Magazine, 16 Jan. 2020 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'leech.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Noun (1) and Verb

Middle English leche, from Old English lǣce; akin to Old High German lāhhi physician

Noun (2)

Middle English leche; akin to Middle Low German līk boltrope

First Known Use

Noun (1)

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 3


1641, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1

Noun (2)

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of leech was before the 12th century

Dictionary Entries Near leech

Cite this Entry

“Leech.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/leech. Accessed 1 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


: any of numerous flesh-eating or bloodsucking usually flattened worms that are made up of segments and have a sucker at each end
: a person who clings like a leech to another person for advantage or gain : parasite


Old English lǣce "doctor, physician"

Word Origin
In the early days of medicine, a physician, known in Old English as a lǣce, often drew blood from patients. These doctors acted in the belief that good health depended on a balance of four controlling fluids in the body. These four fluids were called humors, and one of them was blood. In those days physicians believed that a person became ill if there was too much blood or too little of any of the other humors in the body. Thus they used a controlled bleeding of the patient, or bloodletting as it was called, to balance the humors. An easy way to do this was to attach bloodsucking worms to the body. These worms are common in all parts of the world and especially in marshes and swamps. Today we call these sucking worms leeches, taking the name from those ancient doctors who used them so often.

Medical Definition


1 of 2 noun
: any of numerous carnivorous or bloodsucking annelid worms that comprise the class Hirudinea, that typically have a flattened segmented lance-shaped body with well-marked external annulations, a sucker at each end, a mouth within the anterior sucker, and a large stomach with pouches of large capacity at the sides, that are hermaphroditic usually with direct development, and that occur chiefly in freshwater although a few are marine and some tropical forms are terrestrial see medicinal leech


2 of 2 transitive verb
: to treat as a physician : cure, heal
: to bleed by the use of leeches

More from Merriam-Webster on leech

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