noun tim·ber \ ˈtim-bər \
|Updated on: 25 Jun 2018

Definition of timber

1 a : growing trees or their wood
b used interjectionally to warn of a falling tree
2 : wood suitable for building or for carpentry
3 a : a large squared or dressed piece of wood ready for use or forming part of a structure
b British : lumber 2a
c : a curving frame branching outward from the keel of a ship and bending upward in a vertical direction that is usually composed of several pieces united : rib
4 : material, stuff; especially : a person or type of person qualified for a particular position or status
  • managerial timber



Examples of timber in a Sentence

  1. upon our approach the deer disappeared back into the timber from whence it had come

  2. needed a new load of timber to finish building the house

timber and timbre

Timber and timbre are two similar-looking words that appear in very different contexts. At least most of the time.

Timber traces back to an Old English word initially meaning “house” or “building” that also came to mean “building material,” “wood,” and “trees” or “woods.” Timbers are large squared lengths of wood used for building a house or a boat. In British English, timber is also used as a synonym for lumber.

Metaphorical senses followed after centuries of the word’s use: the word used for building material became a word meaning “material” or “stuff” in general (“it’s best-seller timber”) and came also to refer to the qualities of character, experience, or intellect (“managerial timber”).

And, of course, there’s also the interjectional use of “timber!” as a cry to warn of a falling tree; the fact that most people know this despite few of them ever having deployed the word in such a situation is almost certainly due to cartoons.

Timbre is French in origin, which is apparent in its pronunciation: it is often pronounced \TAM-ber\ and, with a more French-influenced second syllable, \TAM-bruh\. The French ancestor of timbre was borrowed at three different times into English, each time with a different meaning, each time reflecting the evolution that the word had made in French.

The first two meanings timbre had in English (it referred to a kind of drum and to the crest on a coat of arms) are now too obscure for entry in this dictionary, but its third meaning survives. Timbre in modern English generally refers to the quality of a sound made by a particular voice or musical instrument; timbre is useful in being distinct from pitch, intensity, and loudness as a descriptor of sound.

But because English is rarely simple about such things, we have also these facts: timber is listed as a variant spelling of timbre. And timbre may also be correctly pronounced just like timber as \TIM-ber\. And the spelling of timber was unsettled for many years; it was sometimes spelled tymmer, tymber, and, yes, timbre. The messy overlapping of these similar words is coincidental: the consequence of the intersection of the different cultures and languages that left their traces on English.

Origin and Etymology of timber

Middle English, from Old English, building, wood; akin to Old High German zimbar wood, room, Greek demein to build, domos course of stones or bricks




Definition of timber

timbered; timbering play \ˈtim-b(ə-)riŋ\
: to frame, cover, or support with timbers

Recent Examples of timber from the Web

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

First Known Use of timber

before 12th century

in the meaning defined above

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TIMBER Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of timber for English Language Learners

  • : trees that are grown in order to produce wood

  • —used as an interjection to warn people nearby that a cut tree is about to fall

  • : a large piece of wood that is used to form a part of a building

TIMBER Defined for Kids


noun tim·ber \ ˈtim-bər \

Definition of timber for Students

1 : wood suitable for building or for carpentry
2 : a large squared piece of wood ready for use or forming part of a structure

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one who attends or assists a leader

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