Intermediate+ Word of the Day: stray

stray (verb, noun, adjective) /streɪ/ LISTEN

To stray means ‘to wander,’ ‘to move away from the proper course,’ and also ‘to become distracted and digress.’ As a noun, a stray is a domestic animal, such as a dog or cat, found wandering and without an owner. Figuratively, a homeless or friendless person can also be called a stray (although this is most often in the plural expression “waifs and strays”). As an adjective, stray refers to something or someone straying or having strayed. Something occurring apart from other things is also referred as stray.

Example sentences

  • The bored teenager strayed from room to room in the house, never settling anywhere.
  • It was clear we had strayed from the path and we were now well and truly lost.
  • The cat was in poor condition and was obviously a stray.
  • Beth was a kind girl and was always bringing home waifs and strays.
  • The stray dog lived on scraps from people's trash cans.
  • Dan brushed a stray hair off his sleeve.

In pop culture

You can listen to band The Stray Cats singing their 1981 single “Stray Cat Strut” and watch the video here:

Additional information

Strays, always in the plural, are incidences of electrical interference, such as static on a radio or on a telephone line.

Did you know?

Sadly, all too many animals end up as strays or being given to shelters, because people don’t think about all the responsibility that owning an animal brings with it. Here is a video from a charity call The Dog’s Trust made as part of a Christmas campaign to remind people to think before giving dogs as presents:

Other forms

astray (adv)

One final fact

Informally, to stray can mean ‘to be unfaithful to your partner.’

Origin

Stray dates back to the late 13th century. The Middle English verb strayen, a variant of astraien or estraien, comes from the Old and Middle French estraier, which meant ‘to wander about, roam, drift or run loose,’ and was usually said of animals, especially rider-less horses. Linguists are unsure about the origin. Some think that it comes from the Vulgar Latin estragare, a contraction of estravagare, from the Latin extra vagari, ‘to wander outside’ (this would make it related to the English adjective extravagant). Others trace it back to Latin a different way: with the meaning ‘go about the streets’ literally evolving from estree (street or highway), which in turn comes from the Latin via strata, or ‘paved road’ (also the origin of the English street). The figurative sense, ‘to wander from the moral path,’ dates back to the 14th century. The noun also dates back to the late 13th century. It comes from the verb, but this separation probably occurred in French, so it was the Anglo French noun estraié that became the noun-form of stray in English. Stray has been used as an adjective, mainly of animals, since around the year 1600, and of people or objects since around the year 1900. The adjective comes from the verb, but through a shortening of the adverb astray.

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