par·​lous | \ ˈpär-ləs How to pronounce parlous (audio) \

Definition of parlous

1 obsolete : dangerously shrewd or cunning
2 : full of danger or risk

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Other Words from parlous

parlously adverb

Did You Know?

Parlous is both a synonym and a derivative of "perilous"; it came to be as an alteration of "perilous" in Middle English. ("Perilous" is derived from the Anglo-French perilleus, which ultimately comes from the Latin word for "danger": "periculum.") Both words are documented in use from at least the 14th century, but by the 17th century "parlous" had slipped from common use and was considered more or less archaic. It experienced a resurgence in popularity in the 20th century (although some critics still regarded it as an archaic affectation), and today it appears in fairly common use, often modifying "state" or "times."

Examples of parlous in a Sentence

The company is in a parlous financial situation. He talked about the parlous state of the country.
Recent Examples on the Web One day, while walking the dog, Joel weighed in on the parlous state of the federal minimum wage. Belinda Luscombe, Time, "Fighting With a Family Member Over Politics? Try These 4 Steps," 19 Feb. 2021 The parents have been forced, by uncertain but potentially parlous fetal test results, to abort their first pregnancy. Claire Messud, Harpers Magazine, "New Books," 5 Jan. 2021 Reed College was in a parlous financial position, and public sentiment on homosexuality ran the gamut from intolerant to murderous. Aaron Timms, The New Republic, "The Tangled Legacy of James Beard," 4 Dec. 2020 The family waited until the following Saturday to take him to a hospital — a not unusual precaution in a country where the parlous state of medical care leaves many viewing hospitals as places where people go to die. Patrick J. Mcdonnell, Los Angeles Times, "Mexico crosses grim coronavirus milestones: 100,000 dead, 1 million infections," 21 Nov. 2020 Movie-theater operator Cineworld is still in a parlous position. Stephen Wilmot, WSJ, "Movie Theaters Are Counting on James Bond," 24 Sep. 2020 Yemen and Syria among them, given the parlous state of their economies and health systems, and with many people already homeless. Rosalind Mathieson,, "Global Hotspots Go Quiet But Don't Go Away," 8 May 2020 But what poses as unsentimental truth telling isn’t cynical enough about the parlous state of our privacy. Jonathan Zittrain, The Atlantic, "We May Have No Privacy, But Things Can Always Get Worse," 7 Feb. 2020 That leaves Britain’s Iran policy in a parlous position. The Economist, "What Britain’s release of an Iranian tanker says about its post-Brexit foreign policy," 22 Aug. 2019

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

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for parlous

Middle English, variant of perilous perilous (through loss of medial syllable and regular lowering and backing of e)

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Time Traveler for parlous

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

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Last Updated

25 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Parlous.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Mar. 2021.

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English Language Learners Definition of parlous

formal : full of danger or risk

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Nglish: Translation of parlous for Spanish Speakers

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