vas·​sal | \ ˈva-səl How to pronounce vassal (audio) \

Definition of vassal

1 : a person under the protection of a feudal lord to whom he has vowed homage and fealty : a feudal tenant
2 : one in a subservient or subordinate position

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Other Words from vassal

vassal adjective

Examples of vassal in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The archeological record suggests that Omri’s kingdom was a dominant regional power, with the House of David serving as its vassal. Ruth Margalit, The New Yorker, "In Search of King David’s Lost Empire," 22 June 2020 The Ming authorities were no more amused by Portuguese boasting about deposing Malacca’s king, a longtime loyal Chinese vassal. Michael Schuman, The Atlantic, "When China Met the West," 6 June 2020 The Portuguese intended to become a vassal state of the Ming Son of Heaven and participate in tribute and trade like other barbarians, to gain access to lucrative Chinese goods. Michael Schuman, The Atlantic, "When China Met the West," 6 June 2020 In feudal France, vassals pledged loyalty to their lords with a smooch on the lips. Michael Birnbaum,, "Europe bids adieu to cheek kiss in coronavirus era," 15 May 2020 The southern kingdom of Judah avoided Israel’s fate by becoming a vassal state. National Geographic, "'Extremely rare’ Assyrian carvings discovered in Iraq," 17 Jan. 2020 In the messy aftermath of the war in Iraq, many such preachers constructed a revisionist interpretation of America’s role in Kosovo’s wars, arguing that the Americans had turned the country into its vassal, rather than saved it. The Economist, "Confessions of an Islamic State fighter," 16 Aug. 2019 The latest ruler in the Achaemenian dynasty, Cyrus inherited a kingdom that was effectively a vassal state of the more powerful Median empire to the north. National Geographic, "History's first superpower sprang from ancient Iran," 6 Jan. 2020 This was 1987, and the 30-year-old American was in the prosperous -- and free -- enclave of West Berlin, deep inside the German Democratic Republic, a Soviet vassal state widely known simply as East Germany. oregonlive, "How Ronald Reagan’s ‘prophetic’ demand to tear down Berlin Wall happened, came to symbolize Cold War’s end," 12 Nov. 2019

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

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for vassal

Middle English, borrowed from Anglo-French, borrowed from Medieval Latin vassallus "serf of the manor house, household servant, lord's man who has received a fief," borrowed from Gaulish *wassall-, derivative of *wass- "servant" (whence Medieval Latin vassus "serf, servant, holder of a fief"), going back to Celtic *wosto-, whence Welsh gwas "boy, servant," Middle Breton goas, Old Irish foss "servant, attendant"

Note: Celtic *wasto- is generally taken to continue Indo-European *upo-sth2-o- "one who stands under," which may be correct if Gaulish *wass- shares with British Celtic unrounding of o in this position.

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Time Traveler for vassal

Time Traveler

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

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Cite this Entry

“Vassal.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Sep. 2020.

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More Definitions for vassal


How to pronounce vassal (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of vassal

: a person in the past who received protection and land from a lord in return for loyalty and service


vas·​sal | \ ˈva-səl How to pronounce vassal (audio) \

Kids Definition of vassal

: a person in the Middle Ages who received protection and land from a lord in return for loyalty and service

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More from Merriam-Webster on vassal

Nglish: Translation of vassal for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of vassal for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about vassal

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