Definition of earl noun from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary



BrE BrE//ɜːl//
; NAmE NAmE//ɜːrl//
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a nobleman of high rank the Earl of Essex see also countess Word OriginOld English eorl, of Germanic origin. The word earl originally denoted a man of noble rank, as opposed to a peasant, also specifically a hereditary nobleman next above the rank of thane. It was later an equivalent of jarl, a Norse or Danish chief and, under Canute and his successors, applied to the governor of divisions of England such as Wessex. In the late Old English period, as the Saxon court came under Norman influence, the word was applied to any nobleman bearing the continental title of count.
See the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary entry: earl