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1. The state, quality, or condition of excelling; superiority.
2. Something in which one excels.
3. Excellence Excellency.
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.


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
Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014 © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2014


(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]
Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary, © 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd. Copyright 2005, 1997, 1991 by Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.



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.

Picturesque Expressions: A Thematic Dictionary, 1st Edition. © 1980 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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"
Based on WordNet 3.0, Farlex clipart collection. © 2003-2012 Princeton University, Farlex Inc.


Collins Thesaurus of the English Language – Complete and Unabridged 2nd Edition. 2002 © HarperCollins Publishers 1995, 2002


1. The quality of being exceptionally good of its kind:
2. A special feature or quality that confers superiority:
The American Heritage® Roget's Thesaurus. Copyright © 2013, 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
إمْتِياز، تَفَوُّق
yfirburîir, afburîagæîi


[ˈeksələns] Nexcelencia f
Collins Spanish Dictionary - Complete and Unabridged 8th Edition 2005 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1971, 1988 © HarperCollins Publishers 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2005


[ˈɛksələns] nexcellence f
excellence in → excellence en
Collins English/French Electronic Resource. © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


(= 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
Collins German Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged 7th Edition 2005. © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1980 © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1997, 1999, 2004, 2005, 2007


[ˈɛksləns] nsuperiorità
Collins Italian Dictionary 1st Edition © HarperCollins Publishers 1995


(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
Kernerman English Multilingual Dictionary © 2006-2013 K Dictionaries Ltd.
References in classic literature ?
And that to which an end is appointed has also an excellence? Need I ask again whether the eye has an end?
Some persons will probably say, that the employments of the state ought to be given according to every particular excellence of each citizen, if there is no other difference between them and the rest of the community, but they are in every respect else alike: for justice attributes different things to persons differing from each other in their character, according to their respective merits.
Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.
This is why the attainment of proficiency, the pushing of your skill with attention to the most delicate shades of excellence, is a matter of vital concern.
To say the truth, I a little question whether mere man ever arrived at this consummate degree of excellence, as well as whether there hath ever existed a monster bad enough to verify that
The display with which it is to be attended will be something rare and out of the common, for it will be celebrated in a meadow adjoining the town of the bride, who is called, par excellence, Quiteria the fair, as the bridegroom is called Camacho the rich.
To this class, all that is AWFUL is bad, in fact it is THE evil par excellence. Strength, health, superabundance of animal spirits and power, are regarded with hate, suspicion, and fear by the subordinate class.
An insight into the beauty and excellence of this incomparable adjective is unhappily denied to him who has the misfortune to know that the gentleman's name is pronounced Ke-ho-tay.
"Give me first your name, excellence, so that I may speak where
For whereas there have hitherto been good poets, each in his own branch, the critics now expect one man to surpass all others in their several lines of excellence.
And so it came to pass, that the bird, while out one day, met a fellow bird, to whom he boastfully expatiated on the excellence of his household arrangements.
When Stroeve was holding forth at length on the excellence of Monet, he said: "I prefer Winterhalter." But I dare say he said it to annoy, and if he did he certainly succeeded.