: one of the chessmen of least value having the power to move only forward ordinarily one square at a time, to capture only diagonally forward, and to be promoted to any piece except a king upon reaching the eighth rank
: one that can be used to further the purposes of another
She was forced to pawn her diamond ring.
he pawned his antique watch in order to pay off his gambling debt
Recent Examples on the Web
And what better conduit than Errol Morris, a filmmaker fascinated by people who delude themselves, or defend the indefensible, or become pawns in a system that eventually devours them—just like those in a Le Carré novel?—John Anderson, WSJ, 17 Oct. 2023 Aside from being a geopolitical pawn, Taiwan is known as the world’s top maker of semiconductor chips.—Nick Vivarelli, Variety, 13 Nov. 2023 The chess game is on, and the children are the pawns.—Chris Vognar, New York Times, 8 Nov. 2023 Around 200 are still pawns in a high-stakes game of blackmail.—CBS News, 29 Oct. 2023 Dozens of hostages have become pawns in the current Israel-Hamas war, which on Sunday became the deadliest of five conflicts in Gaza for Palestinians.—Mallory Moench, TIME, 15 Oct. 2023 This was rich coming in the wake of Gaetz’s scathing tirades on the House floor accusing McCarthy and his mainline Republicans of being pawns of donors and special-interest groups—all while raising cash off the stunt himself.—Philip Elliott, TIME, 4 Oct. 2023 The pawn shop suspected the items were stolen and Zack fled and hid in an empty house for two days before he was arrested, according to court records.—CBS News, 3 Oct. 2023 Even the most minor decision — a pawn inching out from the phalanx — is coated with centuries of theory and stratagem.—Vulture, 2 Oct. 2023
Also taken during that particular burglary was an iPhone that Madden pawned the next day, the documents show.—Dillon Mullan, Baltimore Sun, 7 Sep. 2023 Others turned to selling possessions (21%) or pawning items (16%).—Rodney Williams, Fortune, 9 Aug. 2023 But the people who steal guns and other valuables to quickly pawn for cash aren’t typically the same people pulling the trigger, Diaz said.—Sara Jean Green, Anchorage Daily News, 9 July 2023 Arthur then passes out face-first in a puddle and flips Barry a ring, telling him to pawn it off and use the money to get him another drink.—Evan Romano, Men's Health, 16 June 2023 There’s the sound of many feet / Passing by, or faltering / Where three golden balls, aswing / Lure the borrower to pawn / Treasures till the last is gone: / Pistol, gun, a watch or clock, / Lacquer box with silver lock, / Shaving mug, a wedding ring, / Curling iron, a water wing.—Dallasnews.com Staff, Dallas News, 15 June 2023 The same two witnesses now said Myers was the one who pawned the VCR for crack.—Ivana Hrynkiw | Ihrynkiw@al.com, al, 26 Jan. 2023 In the summer of 2020, the comedian bought a brand-new Rolex, then pawned it at a steep discount to get some hands on some quick cash.—Alison Herman, Variety, 25 Apr. 2023 Pap pawned Tedra's wedding ring to buy a freezer for the restaurant.—Lester Fabian Brathwaite, EW.com, 13 Apr. 2023 See More
These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'pawn.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.
Middle English powne, paun, borrowed from Anglo-French poun, paun, peoun "person traveling on foot, pawn in chess" (continental Old French also peon, pion "foot soldier"), going back to Late Latin pedōn-, pedō "person with flat feet, person going on foot" (Medieval Latin, "foot soldier") from Latin ped-, pēsfoot entry 1 + -ōn-, -ō, suffix of nouns denoting persons with a prominent characteristic
Anglo-French poun, paun reflects northern or eastern French dialects, where metaphony of the original pretonic front vowel has apparently resulted in a back vowel—unlike central French, where /ɛ/ was raised to /i/ and later lost syllabicity (hence Modern French pion). In Middle English—in at least the realization that has survived in Modern English—the vowel nucleus fell in with the au diphthong that arose from French an- plus a dental consonant. Compare pioneer entry 1, peon.
Middle English pawyn, paun, borrowed from Middle French (Walloon, French Flanders) pan "pledge, surety," probably borrowed from one or more Germanic words, as Middle Dutch and Middle Low German pant "security, pledge," going back to West Germanic *panda- (whence also Old Frisian pand, pond "surety," Old Saxon pand, Old High German pfant), of uncertain origin
The vowel of the Modern English word reflects an earlier diphthong that is the regular Anglo-French outcome of -an- plus a dental consonant, though textual evidence for pan in Anglo-French appears to be lacking. In Scots the word is attested as pawnd in 1431, several decades earlier than the first attestations in England, and forms with a final d still are found in Scotland in the eighteenth century. The earliest and apparently the sole Medieval Latin evidence for pandum in Britain is also in a Scottish text, from the twelfth century. As pan "pledge" in medieval French is identical with pan "piece of cloth, tail of a shirt" (see pane), it has been claimed that they are the same word, a piece of cloth having served as the token of a surety given to a creditor; the Germanic words would then have been borrowed from French. This would leave the final -t/-d of the Germanic words unexplained, however. Moreover, the Germanic words are attested earlier—eighth century for Old High German pfant, eleventh century for Old Saxon pand—while the French word is apparently first attested in 1214 (per Französisches etymologisches Wörterbuch), and from regions (French Flanders, Hainaut, Lorraine) in contact with Germanic speakers. The source of the Germanic word is uncertain—see discussion in Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Althochdeutschen. If the word was a borrowing of Latin pondus "weight" (see pound entry 1), it must have taken place at a very early date, before the separation of a and o by quantity in proto-Germanic.
: one that can be used to further the purposes of another
2 of 3noun
: something given as a guarantee of repayment of a loan
: the state of being pledged
the watch was in pawn
3 of 3verb
: to leave as a guarantee of repayment of a loan
pawn a watch
Middle English pown "chess piece representing an ordinary soldier," from early French peoun,paun (same meaning), from Latin pedon-, pedo "foot soldier," derived from earlier ped-, pes "foot" — related to pedestrian
Middle English paun "something given as a guarantee of repayment of a loan"
: a pledge and transfer of possession of movable or personal property to a creditor which gives the creditor the privilege of satisfying the debt from the property (as by selling it) if the debt is not repaid within a specified time