Also found in: Thesaurus, Medical, Legal, Acronyms, Idioms, Encyclopedia, Wikipedia.


1. The state, quality, or condition of excelling; superiority.
2. Something in which one excels.
3. Excellence Excellency.


1. the state or quality of excelling or being exceptionally good; extreme merit; superiority
2. an action, characteristic, feature, etc, in which a person excels


(ˈɛk sə ləns)

1. the fact or state of excelling; superiority; eminence: excellence in physics.
2. an excellent quality or feature: the many excellences of French cuisine.
[1350–1400; Middle English < Middle French < Latin]



Al or A one Superior, excellent, first-rate. The term dates from the 1830s. Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping used letters to indicate the condition of a ship’s hull, and numbers to designate the state of the cables, anchors, etc. The highest attainable rating was Al. In the United States the colloquial phrase A-number one is often heard.

bear away the bell See VICTORY.

bear the bell To be in the foremost position; to take the lead; to be the best. This expression refers to the bell worn on the neck of the bellwether, the leading sheep of a flock. It can be used quantitatively to mean the first in a series, or qualitatively to mean the best. Chaucer used it in the former sense:

And, let see which of you shall bear the bell
To speak of love aright? (Troilus and Criseyde, 1374)

The judgmental use of bear the bell is more current today.

blowed-in-the-glass First-rate, superior, high quality. This American hobo slang expression alludes to the fact that the better liquors often had the brand name blown into the glass of the bottle.

blue ribbon The highest order of excellence; preeminence in a given area; first prize. The term may come either from the blue ribbon worn by members of the Order of the Garter, the highest order of British knighthood, instituted in the mid-14th century; or from the blue ribbon (cordon bleu) worn by members of the Order of the Saint Esprit, the highest order of knighthood in France, instituted in the late 16th century. The French term cordon bleu remains in use primarily for chefs of distinction. The first figurative use of blue ribbon has been attributed to Disraeli, who termed the Derby “the Blue Ribbon of the Turf” (1848).

cat’s meow Someone or something excellent, first rate, remarkable; the acme. Introduced in the early 1900s, this was among the most popular fad expressions of the Roaring 20s. It is rarely used now. Cat’s pajamas, another popular phrase of the era, derives from the fact that pajamas had just been introduced and were still considered somewhat daring nighttime attire. The word cat is also used in expressions such as cat’s whiskers, cat’s cuff links, cat’s eyebrows, cat’s galoshes, cat’s roller skates, and cat’s tonsils.

In the 1920s, it was all the rage to combine an animal with an inappropriate body part or clothing item, e.g., ant’s pants, bee’s knees, clam’s garters, eel’s ankles, elephant’s instep, gnu’s shoes, leopard’s stripes, pig’s wings, sardine’s whiskers, and tiger’s spots.


enough to make a cat speak Said in reference to something extraordinarily good, usually superior drink. The point is that the liquor is so good it will loosen even a cat’s tongue. A variant of this expression appears in Shakespeare’s The Tempest (II, ii):

Here is that which will give language to you, cat; open your mouth.

hunky-dory In a fine state; in superb condition; Al or A-OK. This American expression, derived from the Dutch honk ‘goal, home,’ as in the children’s games of tag or hide and go seek, implies feelings of success, contentment, or satisfaction.

I thought everything was hunkydory and you were well on the way to being a big executive. (D. M. Dakin, Sullen Bell, 1956)

of the first water Perfect, consummate; pure, unblemished. The transparency, color, or luster of a diamond or pearl is its water. Diamonds are rated of the first, second, or third water. The phrase came to be applied to jewels in general, and subsequently to any person or object of outstanding quality. It is frequently used in negative contexts as an intensifier—pure as ‘unmitigated, out-and-out, thoroughgoing, complete.’

He was a … swindler of the first water. (Scott, Journal, 1826)

purple patches Passages in a literary work that are marked by ornate writing, especially as interlarded with an overuse of dramatic, exaggerated literary effects; inappropriately laden with rhetorical devices. In this expression, purple means ‘gorgeous.’

A few of the purple patches scattered through the book may serve as a sample of the rest. (Academy, April, 1881)

the real McCoy See GENUINENESS.

round as Giotto’s O Said of a task, project, or other matter that is completed quickly, effortlessly, and with a high degree of perfection. According to legend, Pope Boniface VIII sent a messenger to secure the services of the famous Italian artist Giotto (c. 1266-1337). Seeking proof of Giotto’s skill, the messenger asked for a sample of his work, whereupon the artist quickly drew a perfect circle on a sheet of paper. The pope was impressed, and the expression and its variants soon became almost proverbial in Italy and elsewhere.

I saw … that the practical teaching of the masters of Art was summed up by the O of Giotto. (John Ruskin, The Queen of the Air, 1869)

Rounder than the O of Giotto is sometimes said of a work that epitomizes perfection, one that is more perfect than perfect.

to a fare-thee-well Perfectly, to the utmost degree or fullest extent, to the maximum; also to a fare-you-well. This American expression, which dates from the latter part of the 19th century, comes from the parting phrase/ore you well, used to express good wishes to one about to leave on a journey. Perhaps the connection lies in the finality of departure.

top-drawer Of the highest rank; usually in reference to social class. Conjecture is that the term stems from keeping one’s most valuable possessions in the top drawer of a chest.

top-shelf Of superior quality, used especially in relation to social class or standing, as in top-shelfer.

The frontiersman calls them, as we have heard, “top-shelfers”; they are accompanied by their servants from England. (Baillie-Grohman, Camps in the Rockies, 1882)

Top-shelf items are out of easy reach, for use or wear only on rare occasions; extraordinary or fine as opposed to everyday. One theory holds that top-shelf derives from the saloon keepers’ practice of placing the most expensive, and consequently the least requested, brands of liquor on the higher shelves. The more frequently ordered house-brands were kept more readily accessible.

tough act to follow Said of a presentation, performance, project, or other matter that has been completed successfully and with a high degree of excellence, especially one that has received much acclaim. In variety shows, theatrical performances, concerts, etc., it has become customary to save the best act for last lest the audience become disappointed and leave before the entire show has been completed. Tough act to follow implies that the standards set by a previous performer will be difficult, if not impossible, to meet or exceed.

ThesaurusAntonymsRelated WordsSynonymsLegend:
Noun1.excellence - the quality of excellingexcellence - the quality of excelling; possessing good qualities in high degree
quality - an essential and distinguishing attribute of something or someone; "the quality of mercy is not strained"--Shakespeare
admirability, admirableness, wonderfulness - admirable excellence
impressiveness, magnificence, grandness, richness - splendid or imposing in size or appearance; "the grandness of the architecture"; "impressed by the richness of the flora"
civilisation, civilization, refinement - the quality of excellence in thought and manners and taste; "a man of intellectual refinement"; "he is remembered for his generosity and civilization"
2.excellence - an outstanding feature; something in which something or someone excels; "a center of manufacturing excellence"; "the use of herbs is one of the excellencies of French cuisine"
characteristic, feature - a prominent attribute or aspect of something; "the map showed roads and other features"; "generosity is one of his best characteristics"



1. The quality of being exceptionally good of its kind:
2. A special feature or quality that confers superiority:
إمْتِياز، تَفَوُّق
yfirburîir, afburîagæîi


[ˈeksələns] Nexcelencia f


[ˈɛksələns] nexcellence f
excellence in → excellence en


(= high quality)hervorragende Qualität, Vorzüglichkeit f; artistic/academic excellencehöchste künstlerische/wissenschaftliche Qualität; the excellence of the essayder ausgezeichnete or hervorragende Aufsatz; we strive for excellencewir streben hervorragende Qualität an
(= excellent feature)Vorzug m, → hervorragende Eigenschaft


[ˈɛksləns] nsuperiorità


(ikˈsel) past tense, past participle exˈcelled verb
1. to stand out beyond others (in some quality etc); to do very well (in or at some activity). He excelled in mathematics / at football.
2. to be better than. She excels them all at swimming.
ˈexcellence (ˈek-) noun
unusual goodness or worth. this man's excellence as a teacher.
ˈExcellency (ˈek-) plural ˈExcellencies noun
(with His, ~Your etc) a title of honour, used eg for ambassadors. His/Your Excellency; Their Excellencies.
ˈexcellent (ˈek-) adjective
unusually good. an excellent plan.
ˈexcellently adverb
References in classic literature ?
We will not dispute concerning the excellence of the passage," returned Heyward, smiling; for, as the reader has anticipated, it was he.
I have forgotten to mention that, in many things, Queequeg placed great confidence in the excellence of Yojo's judgment and surprising forecast of things; and cherished Yojo with considerable esteem, as a rather good sort of god, who perhaps meant well enough upon the whole, but in all cases did not succeed in his benevolent designs.
Says Plowdon, the whale so caught belongs to the King and Queen, because of its superior excellence.
The cabin of Uncle Tom was a small log building, close adjoining to "the house," as the negro par excellence designates his master's dwelling.
If a low use is to be served, one man will do nearly or quite as well as another; if a high one, individual excellence is to be regarded.
Let the calum- niators of the colored race despise themselves for their baseness and illiberality of spirit, and hence- forth cease to talk of the natural inferiority of those who require nothing but time and opportunity to attain to the highest point of human excellence.
She played and sang;and drew in almost every style; but steadiness had always been wanting; and in nothing had she approached the degree of excellence which she would have been glad to command, and ought not to have failed of.
The excellence of his understanding and his principles can be concealed only by that shyness which too often keeps him silent.
If Miss Ingram had been a good and noble woman, endowed with force, fervour, kindness, sense, I should have had one vital struggle with two tigers--jealousy and despair: then, my heart torn out and devoured, I should have admired her--acknowledged her excellence, and been quiet for the rest of my days: and the more absolute her superiority, the deeper would have been my admiration--the more truly tranquil my quiescence.
Here lies Wragge, embalmed in the tardy recognition of his species: he plowed, sowed, and reaped his fellow-creatures; and enlightened posterity congratulates him on the uniform excellence of his crops.
Don't look forward to variety, but you'll have excellence.
For the Squire's wife had died long ago, and the Red House was without that presence of the wife and mother which is the fountain of wholesome love and fear in parlour and kitchen; and this helped to account not only for there being more profusion than finished excellence in the holiday provisions, but also for the frequency with which the proud Squire condescended to preside in the parlour of the Rainbow rather than under the shadow of his own dark wainscot; perhaps, also, for the fact that his sons had turned out rather ill.