Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Legal, Encyclopedia, Wikipedia.
To foreshadow future problems. I'm worried that these dark clouds spell trouble for our day on the golf course. Police know very well that large crowds can spell trouble.
To make something more comprehensible; to present the details of something to make it clear to understand. A noun or pronoun can be used between "spell" and "out." Sorry, but could you spell out your exact plan for us? It doesn't really seem to make sense. Mandy and I are going to get dinner and then a movie. It's a date—do I have to spell it out for you?
To be victorious over someone in a spelling competition (known as a "spelling bee" or "spelldown"). A noun or pronoun can be used between "spell" and "down." A first time contestant, she managed to spell down all 29 other competitors to win the city's 22nd annual spelling bee. He spelled Sarah Thompson with his correct spelling of the word "antidisestablishmentarianism."
spell someone down
to win over someone in a spelling match. Frank spelled everyone else down and won the spelling bee. He spelled down almost everyone.
spell something out
1. Lit. to spell something (with letters). I can't understand your name. Can you spell it out? Please spell out all the strange words so I can write them down correctly.
2. Fig. to give all the details of something. I want you to understand this completely, so I'm going to spell it out very carefully. The instruction book for my computer spells out everything very carefully.
to signify future trouble; to mean trouble. This letter that came today spells trouble. The sky looks angry and dark. That spells trouble.
1. Make plain, clarify, as in We asked her to spell out her objectives. [c. 1940]
2. Read slowly and laboriously, as in He was only six but he managed to spell out the instructions. [Early 1800s]
3. Puzzle out, manage to understand with some effort, as in It took years before anyone could spell out the inscriptions on the Rosetta Stone. [Late 1600s] All three usages transfer spell in the sense of "proceed letter by letter."
To defeat someone in a spelling bee: My cousin spelled down 15 competitors to reach the finals. I finally spelled last year's champion down.
1. To name or write in order the letters constituting some word or part of a word: I spelled out my name for the telephone operator. The student spelled each out each word on the spelling test.
2. To give a detailed and literal statement of something in order to make it perfectly clear and understandable: The committee demanded that he spell out his objectives. She didn't understand the penalties at first, but we spelled them out for her.