AskDefine | Define fugitive

Dictionary Definition

fugitive adj : lasting for a markedly brief time; "a fleeting glance"; "fugitive hours"; "rapid momentaneous association of things that meet and pass"; "a momentary glimpse" [syn: fleeting, momentaneous, momentary]


1 someone who flees from an uncongenial situation; "fugitives from the sweatshops" [syn: runaway]
2 someone who is sought by law officers; someone trying to elude justice [syn: fugitive from justice]

User Contributed Dictionary



From fugitif.


  1. (often followed by "from") a person who is fleeing or escaping from something
    John was a fugitive



  1. fleeing or running away
  2. transient, fleeting or ephemeral
  3. elusive of difficult to retain




fr-noun f (masculine: fugitif)
  1. a female fugitive

Extensive Definition

A fugitive is a person who is fleeing from custody, whether it be from private slavery, a government arrest, government or non-government questioning, vigilante violence, or outraged private individuals. As a verbal metaphor and psychological concept, one might also be described as a "fugitive from oneself." Finally, the literary sense of "fugitive" includes the meaning of simply "fleeting."
Interpol is the international authority for the pursuit of trans-border fugitives. In the United States, the U.S. Marshals Service is the primary law enforcement agency that tracks down federal fugitives, though the Federal Bureau of Investigation also tracks fugitives.

"On the lam"

"On the lam" or "on the run" often refers to fugitives. "Lam" means "thrash" or "beat soundly," from the Icelandic, "lemja". The imagery is that one beats the path with one's feet while fleeing quickly. Properly, it stems from a Norwegian/Icelandic language group which, in turn, derives from a Northern Germanic branch of the Germanic languages, where the Englishes (Modern from Middle from Old) come from Low German, coming from a Western Germanic branch of the Germanic languages. Merriam-Webster's describes the etymology as "of Scandinavian origin; akin to Old Norse lemje to thrash; akin to Old English lama lame Date: 1595."
Mencken's The American Language and The Thesaurus of American Slang proclaim that lam, lammister, and "on the lam" — all referring to a hasty departure — were common in thieves' slang before the turn of the Twentieth Century. Mencken quotes a newspaper report on the origin of 'lam' which actually traces it indirectly back to Shakespeare's time.
The Sage of Baltimore also quotes a story from the New York Herald Tribune in 1938 which reported that "one of the oldest police officers in New York said that he had heard "on the lam" thirty years ago."


The phrase "on the lam" is used in the popular Broadway Musical "Wicked", where the Palace Guards and the fugitive, Elphaba meet during a palace ball. During this scene, one guard remarks: "There's a goat on the lam, sir!" This refers to the arrested talking Goat which is on the loose in the Wizard's palace during the scene. The statement is a pun, "on the lam" meaning on the run, and "lam" also joking at the similarity between a lamb and a goat.
A similar use of the term was seen in a Simpsons episode. Abe Simpson remarks "Call me mint jelly, 'cause I'm on the lam!" as he runs away.

External links

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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