[a. late L. idea (in Platonic sense), a. Gr. ιδεα look, semblance, form, configuration, species, kind, class, sort, nature, (in Platonic philosophy) a general or ideal form, type, model, f. root ιδ—, ιδειν to see: the word being thus analogous in derivation and original sense to L. species from spec-ere to see, behold. So It., Sp., Pg. idea; F. idée.
1430–1589 [see IDEE]. 1563 T. GALE Institutes of Chirurg. 11 As one myght thynke hymselfe ryght happye, though he neuer dyd attayne to Aristoteles summum bonum, or Plato his Idæa. 1603 HOLLAND Plutarch’s Mor. 813 Idea is a bodilesse substance, which of it selfe hath no subsistence, but giveth figure and forme unto shapelesse matters, and becommeth the very cause that bringeth them into shew and evidence. Socrates and Plato suppose, that these Ideæ bee substances separate and distinct from Matter, howbeit, subsisting in the thoughts and imaginations of God—that is to say, of Minde and Understanding. 1652 GAULE Magastrom. *jb, Chymericall figments, Platonicall Ideaes, Cabbalisticall fancies. 1656 STANLEY Hist. Philos. v. (1701) 184/2 They define Idea an Eternal Exemplar of things which are according to Nature. For Idea’s are the Eternal Notions of God, perfect in themselves. 1856 FERRIER Inst. Metaph. VI. xviii. 176 Plato..had merely succeeded in carrying our cognitions up into certain subordinate unities, certain inferior universals, called by him ideas. 1885 W. L. DAVIDSON Logic of Definition vi. 145 With Plato, the Idea is ontological or metaphysical… It is both an objective intelligible existence (‘uncreated and imperishable’) and a pattern, model, archetype or παραδειγμα 2. a. The conception of anything in its highest perfection or supreme development; a standard of perfection; an ideal. (Cf. 1.) Obs. or arch.
1586 T. B.
tr. La Primaud. Fr. Acad.
Ep. Ded. Aiij, Rather an Idæa of good life, than such a platforme as may be drawen from contemplation into action. 1606 L. BRYSKETT Civ. Life
61 Xenophon in his Ciropædia..hauing..vnder the person of Cirus, framed an idæa or perfect patterne of an excellent Prince. 1647 COWLEY Mistr., Not Fair
i, I thought you once as fair, As women in th’ Idæa are. 1682 SIR T. BROWNE Chr. Mor. I
. §28 How widely we are fallen from the pure Exemplar and Idea of our Nature. 1844 MRS. BROWNING Drama of Exile
Poems 1850 I. 3 Thou [Lucifer] shalt be an Idea to all souls..whence to mark despair, And measure out the distances from good.
b. A person or thing regarded as perfect in its kind; the ideal realized in an individual. Obs.
1591 Troub. Raigne K. John II
. (1611) 100 Was euer any so infortunate, The right Idea of a cursed man? 1602 CAMPION Bk. Airs
Wks. (Bullen) 27 It is th’ Idea of her sex Envy of whom doth world perplex. 1627 JACKSON Creed XII
. x. §2 Christ..was the idæa of legal Nazarites. 1651 Life Father Sarpi
(1676) 65 The most excellent Senate (the very Idea of politick Christian prudence).
3. The conception of a standard or principle to be realized or aimed at; a conception of what is desirable or ought to be; a governing conception or principle; the plan or design according to which something is created or constructed.
1581 SIDNEY Apol. Poetrie
(Arb.) 26 The skil of the Artificer standeth in that Idea or fore-conceite of the work. 1602 WARNER Alb. Eng. IX
. lii, Scriptures Idea crouched in our Love to God and men. 1667 MILTON P.L. VII
. 557 To behold this new created World..how good, how faire, Answering his great Idea. 1700 DRYDEN Fables
Ded. 11 If Chaucer by the best idea wrought. 1840 MILL Diss. & Disc., Coleridge
(1859) I. 438 His mode..is to investigate what he terms the Idea
of it, or what in common parlance would be called the principle involved in it. 1841 MYERS Cath. Th. IV
. i. 182 The ground-plan of the Universe—the idea according to which it is. 1858 HAWTHORNE Fr. & It. Jrnls.
II. 7 The statue has been restored, and..because the idea is perfect and indestructible, all these injuries do not..impair the effect.
4. In weakened sense: A conception or notion of something to be done or carried out; an intention, plan of action. big idea: the purpose, intent. Freq. in ironic phr. what’s (or what is) the big idea? (orig. U.S.)
1617 MORYSON Itin. II
. 245 You had alwaies in your owne judgement the certaine Idea thereof, as a thing that you resolved to doe. 1644 MILTON Educ.
Wks. (1847) 98/2 That voluntary Idea, which hath long in silence presented itself to me, of a better education..than hath been yet in practice. 1770 BURKE Corr.
(1844) I. 231 The idea of short parliaments is..plausible enough; so is the idea of an election by ballot. 1798 ROOT Amer. Rep.
I. 44 If this performance meets with approbation..the author has it in idea to publish a second volume. 1861 HOLLAND Less. Life
i. 12 We hear of women who are suddenly seized by an idea, as if it were a colic. 1908 G. H. LORIMER Jack Spurlock
vii. 151 That’s not the Big Idea, I know; it’s the idiotic one, but the market for idiocy is unlimited. 1917 R. W. LARDNER Gullible’s Travels
(1926) iii. 83 Then we done a little spoonin’ and then I ast her what was the big idear. 1927 A. P. HERBERT Plain Jane
52 But now I’m not wanted no more Unless it’s for scrubbing a floor, And if that’s what a person is for—Well, what’s the Big Idea? 1933 M. LOWRY Ultramarine
v. 220 What’s the big idea not telling me before? 1937 A. CHRISTIE Death on Nile I
. i. 35 You’re crazy! What’s the big idea? 1951 M. MCLUHAN Mech. Bride
43/1 Latch onto our big idea index for deep consolation? 1962
P. GREGORY Like Tigress at Bay
vii. 76 Jill entered, her face pale. ‘What was the big idea?’
5. A pattern, type; the original of which something else is a copy; a preliminary sketch or draft; something in an undeveloped state. Obs.
1669 GALE Crt. Gentiles I
. Introd. 1 Some rude Idea or first lines thereof were drawn many years past in mine Academic Studies. 1677 Ibid. III
. 127 Those Pagan, Jewish, and Gnostic Antichrists..as forerunners and ideas of the great Roman Antichrist. 1670-98 R. LASSELS Voy. Italy
123 This was the first Cupola in Europe, and therefore the more admirable for having no Idea after which it was framed. 1692 RAY Dissol. World
iv. (1732) 57 Those Ideas or Embryos may be..marred or deformed in the womb.
6. Mus. A musical theme, phrase, or figure, as conceived or sketched before being worked up in a composition.
1880 GROVE Dict. Mus.
I. 165 [Beethoven’s] sketch-books of that time are crammed with ideas.
II. Figure, form, image.
7. a. A figure, representation, likeness, image, symbol, ‘picture’ (of something). Obs.
1531 ELYOT Gov. I
. xxii, I haue..noted daunsinge to be of an excellent utilitie, comprehendinge in it wonderfull figures, or, as the grekes do calle them, Ideae
, of vertues and noble qualities. 1594 SHAKES. Rich. III
. vii. 13, I did inferre your Lineaments, Being the right Idea of your Father, Both in your forme, and Noblenesse of Minde. 1598 B. JONSON Ev. Man in Hum. II
. iii, Hold up your head, do; and let the Idea
of what you are, bee portray’d i’ your face. 1634 SIR T. HERBERT Trav.
190 Where a top or high Mount is conspicuously set the Idæa of a horrible Caco-demon. 1641 FRENCH Distill.
Pref. (1651) *iij, The Idea of a plant [may be made] to appear in a glasse, as if the very plant it selfe were there. 1707 Curios. in Husb. & Gard.
325 When a Body is..reduc’d into Ashes, we find again in the Salts, extracted from its Ashes, the Idea, the Image, and the Phantom of the same Body. 1714 SWIFT Pres. St. Affairs
Wks. 1755 II. I
. 211 A ship’s crew quarreling in a storm..is but a faint idea of this fatal infatuation.
b. Form, figure (as a quality or attribute); configuration, shape; aspect; nature or character.
1594 BLUNDEVIL Exerc. III
. ii. (1636) 279 The chiefe Idea or shape of Gods mind, which hath neither beginning nor ending, and therefore is compared to a Circle. 1653 H. MORE Antid. Ath. II
. v. (1712) 54 Other solid Figures, which though they be not Regular, properly so called, yet have a settled Idea and Nature, as a Cone, Sphear, or Cylinder. 1677 GALE Crt. Gentiles III
. 26 To demonstrate the vanitie of Philosophie from its own essential Idea or Nature. 1737
] G. di Lucca’s Mem.
198 To return to the Idea of their Government, each Father of a Family governs all his Descendants.
c. A ‘figure’ of speech or rhetoric; a form or way of speaking. Obs.
1642 MILTON Apol. Smect.
i, Whether a vehement vein throwing out indignation or scorn upon an object that merits it, were among the aptest ideas of speech to be allowed.
III. Mental image, conception, notion.
8. An image existing or formed in the mind. a. The mental image or picture of something previously seen or known, and recalled by the memory. Obs.
1589 GREENE Menaphon
(Arb.) 41 Me thinkes the Idea of her person represents it selfe an obiect to my fantasie. 1594 SPENSER Amoretti
xlv, Within my hart..The fayre Idea of your celestiall hew..remaines immortally. 1599 SHAKES. Much Ado IV
. i. 226 Th’ Idea of her life shal sweetly creepe Into his study of imagination. 1662 J. DAVIES
tr. Olearius’ Voy. Ambass.
220 After he had earnestly view’d the Boy, and by that means Imprinted an Idea of him in his imagination. 1749 FIELDING Tom Jones XIII
. xi, Though I despaired of possessing you..I doted still on your charming idea. 1764 FOOTE Mayor of G. I
. 19 Oh, Madam, I can never be alone; your sweet idea [printed
idera] will be my constant companion.
b. More generally: A picture or notion of anything conceived by the mind; a conception.
1612 BRINSLEY Lud. Lit.
vii. (1627) 84 To have an Idæa
or generall notion of all in their heads. 1616 BULLOKAR
, the forme or figure of any thing conceiued in the minde. 1651 HOBBES Leviath. II
. xxxi. 190 To say we conceive, and imagine, or have an Idea
of him [etc.]. 1659 STANLEY Hist. Philos. XI
. (1701) 448/2 Idæa’s are notions of the Mind, and subsist in our Mind..as Similitudes and Images of Beings. 1662 J. DAVIES
tr. Mandelslo’s Trav.
284 Of this place I had heard so much..that I had framed to my self a certain Idæa of its greatnesse. 1712-14 POPE Rape Lock I
. 83 Then gay Ideas crowd the vacant brain, While Peers, and Dukes, and all their sweeping train..appear. 1729 SWITZER Hydrost. & Hydraul.
176 We acquire..an Idea of Solidity by the Touch. 1759 JOHNSON Rasselas
xlvii, What space does the idea of a pyramid occupy more than the idea of a grain of corn? 1857 MAURICE Ep. St. John
xv. 242 This is the completest idea of love, the only complete idea we can have.
c. A conception to which no reality corresponds; something merely imagined or fancied.
1588 SHAKES. L.L.L. IV
. ii. 69 A foolish extrauagant spirit, full of formes, figures, shapes, objects, Ideas, apprehensions. 1622 WITHER Mistr. Philar.
Wks. (1633) 651 Is it possible that I Who scarce heard of Poesie Should a meare Idea raise To as true a pitch of praise As the learned Poets could? 1630 PRYNNE Anti-Armin.
156 Which make..Predestination a meere Idæa. 1720 WATERLAND Eight Serm.
199 Not so destitute of..understanding, as to take the Substance of Father, or Son, to be an abstract Idea. 1871 R. W. DALE Commandm.
i. 32 To the Jews, Jehovah was not a mere idea or a system of attributes.
d. in idea (= F. en idée), in conception or imagination; in mind, in thought: opposed to in reality.
tr. Aleman’s Guzman d’Alf. II
. i. 2 Albeit..I were such an arrant Asse and Coxecombe, as you forsooth in your Idea would forme mee to be. 1632 B. JONSON Magn. Lady
Induct., The author..hath phant’sied to himselfe, in Idæa, this Magneticke Mistris. 1701 NORRIS Ideal World I
. ii. 16 Men talk..of things in idea..a line in idea, a circle in idea. 1807 BYRON Childish Recoll.
45 Bright in idea gleams thy lofty spire. 1830 BARONESS BUNSEN
in Hare Life
(1879) I. ix. 347 How many vignettes did I make in my idea for my intended letter?
9. a. More widely: Any product of mental apprehension or activity, existing in the mind as an object of knowledge or thought; an item of knowledge or belief; a thought, conception, notion; a way of thinking.
c1645 HOWELL Lett.
(1655) III. xxvi. 38 One shall hardly find two in ten thousand that have exactly..the same tone of voice..or idæas of mind. 1690 BOYLE Chr. Virtuoso I
. 104 Either Congenite, or very easily and very early Acquir’d Notions and Idæas. 1713 SWIFT Cadenus & Vanessa
555 Ideas came into her mind So fast, his lessons lagg’d behind. 1728-46 THOMSON Spring
1152 Delightful task! to rear the tender thought, To teach the young idea how to shoot. 1785 REID Intell. Powers I
. i. (1803) 36 In popular language idea signifies the same thing as conception, apprehension, notion. 1822 HAZLITT Table-t.
II. iv. 60 People who have no ideas of their own are glad to hear what any one else has to say. 1888 J. INGLIS Tent Life Tigerland
245 The marvellous way in which Western ideas are making progress in the minds of the natives.
b. A notion or thought more or less imperfect, indefinite, or fanciful; a vague belief, opinion, or estimate; a supposition, impression, fancy. to have no idea: (a) not to anticipate or expect (a situation or occurrence); (b) to be unable to comprehend; usu. in phr. you have no idea.
1712 W. ROGERS Voy.
338 To give them an ill Idea of all those they..call Hereticks. 1737
] G. di Lucca’s Mem.
58 The vast Ideas they had of their own Nation, valuing themselves above all other People. 1790 BURKE Fr. Rev.
44 The very idea of the fabrication of a new government is enough to fill us with disgust and horror. 1852 E. RUSKIN Let.
17 Apr. in M. Lutyens Effie in Venice
. 298 In two days he got it done and they are grateful you have no idea. 1852 MRS. STOWE Uncle Tom’s C.
xxvi, ‘You believe, don’t you, that Topsy could become an angel..if she were a Christian?’ ‘Topsy! what a ridiculous idea!’ 1861 DICKENS Gt. Expect.
xi, So like Matthew! The idea! 1866 G. MACDONALD Ann. Q. Neighb.
xxx. (1878) 523, I had no idea you would be flooded. 1916 ‘TAFFRAIL’ Pincher Martin
vii. 114 He’s that conceited, you’ve no idea.
c. Colloq. phr. to get (or have) ideas (into one’s head): to conceive notions of a particular kind, usu. undesirable or harmful; spec. to entertain a notion or intention of being rebellious, violent, etc.
c1848 F. A. KEMBLE Let.
in Rec. Later Life
(1882) III. 322 A young boy..brought up in a girl’s convent, and taken out for a week, during which he..sups and gets tipsy at the mess, and, in short, ‘gets ideas’ of all sorts. 1932 H. C. WYLD Universal Dict. Eng. Lang.
, To get ideas into one’s head
, to cherish illusions. 1935
J. C. SQUIRE Reflections & Memories
10 Babus would get ideas into their heads, but the Mutiny had taught its lesson and the redcoat had the situation well in hand. 1941 I. BAIRD He rides Sky
146 That’s the second happy couple I’ve seen busted up in a month and it’s cured me if I ever had ideas. I’d no more marry with a war on than jump over the moon. 1955
W. C. GAULT Ring around Rosa
vii. 82 Don’t get any ideas, Brock Callahan. There are times when I simply—I mean, there’s a definite therapeutical need for some form of release in a society as hectic as —. Ibid.
xiii. 156 Don’t get any ideas, Callahan. This is an easy trigger.
d. Used after a possessive to denote a person’s conception of an ideal, typical, or adequate example of the person or thing specified.
1903 G. B. SHAW Man & Superman III
. 111 Is that your idea of a woman’s mind? I call it cynical and disgusting materialism. 1907 John Bull’s Other Island I
. 7 Now thats my poor English idea of a whisky and soda. 1919 E. O’NEILL In Zone
in Moon of Caribbees
(1923) 22 If this is your idea of a joke I’ll have to confess it’s a bit too thick for me to enjoy. 1933 Ah, Wilderness!
. 21 Gosh, he’s always reading now. It’s not my idea of having a good time in vacation. 1969 Listener
10 July 39/3 He would not be everyone’s idea of a military dictator.
e. An idea worthy of consideration or capable of realization; a possibility; usu. in phr. it’s (or that’s) an idea. colloq.
1914 G. B. SHAW Misalliance
27 Thats an idea. Thats a new idea. I believe I ought to have made Johnny an author. 1919 Inca of Perusalem
in Heartbreak House
197 Thats an idea. I will. 1942 A. CHRISTIE Body in Library
i. 19 It might
be. It’s an idea, Jane. 1973 K. GILES File on Death
i. 16 ‘I suppose I can take my Sergeant.’..‘It might be an idea… Your Sergeant might wheedle his way where Chief Inspectors fear to tread.’
IV. Modern philosophical developments.
10. [from 8 and 9.] With Descartes and Locke: Whatever is in the mind and directly present to cognitive consciousness; that which one thinks, feels, or fancies; the immediate object of thought or mental perception.
With Hume and his followers: An impression of sensation, either as original or as reproduced and elaborated by association. With Reid, Dugald Stewart, and the Scottish school: The immediate and direct mental product of knowing, as distinguished from the object of knowledge, and from the action or process of knowing.
1666 Phil. Trans.
I. 325 The Arguments devised against Atheists by Des Cartes, and drawn from the Idea’s of our Mind. 1690 LOCKE Hum. Und. I
. i, I must here in the Entrance beg Pardon..for the frequent use of the Word Idea
… It being that Term, which, I think, serves best to stand for whatsoever is the Object of the Understanding when a Man thinks, I have used it to express..whatever it is, which the Mind can be employ’d about in thinking. Ibid. II
. viii. §8 Whatsoever the Mind perceives in itself, or is the immediate Object of Perception, Thought, or Under~standing, that I call Idea
. 1709 BERKELEY Th. Vision
§45 When I speak of tangible ideas, I take the word idea for any the immediate object of sense, or understanding. 1710 Princ. Hum. Knowl. I
. §2 The existence of an idea consists in being perceived. 1725 WATTS Logic I
. iii. §1 There has been a great controversy about the origin of ideas, viz. Whether any of our ideas are innate or no, that is, born with us, and naturally belonging to our minds. Mr. Locke utterly denies it; others as positively affirm it. Ibid.
§2 A simple Idea is one uniform Idea which cannot be divided or distinguished by the Mind of Man into two or more Ideas; such are a Multitude of our Sensations, as the Idea of Sweet, Bitter, Cold, Heat, White, Red, Blue, Hard, Soft
. 1739 HUME Hum. Nat. I
. i. (1874) I. 311 By ideas I mean the faint images of these [impressions] in thinking and reasoning. 1762 KAMES Elem. Crit.
(1833) 478 This indistinct secondary perception of an object, is termed an idea. 1837-9 HALLAM Hist. Lit. IV
. iii. §107 The leading doctrine of Locke, as is well known, is the derivation of all our ideas from sensation and from reflection. 1843 MILL Logic IV
. ii. §i, The metaphysical inquiry into the nature and composition of what have been called Abstract Ideas. 1860 MANSEL Proleg. Log.
i. 33 Idea
has been indifferently employed by modern philosophers to denote the object of thought, of imagination, and even (under the representative hypothesis) of perception.
11. [from 1.] a. In the Kantian and transcendental schools: A conception of reason that transcends all experience; one of the noumena or ultimate principles apprehended by reason, as opposed to the conceptions of the understanding, which are confined to experience. b. In Hegelianism: The absolute truth of which all phenomenal existence is the expression; the Idea, the Absolute.
1838 Penny Cycl.
XII. 99/1 Hegel distinguishes three species of thought..1. The thought
…2. The notion
…3. The idea
, or thought in its totality and fully determined. a1871 GROTE Eth. Fragm.
v. (1876) 138 This conception is what Kant would call an Idea
—nothing precisely conformable to it, in its full extent, can ever exist in reality. 1874 W. WALLACE Logic of Hegel
Proleg. xxii. 174 This organism of thought, as the living reality or gist of the external world and the world within us, is termed the Idea. The Idea is the ‘reality’ and the ‘ideality’ of the world or totality, considered as a process beyond time. Ibid.
xxiii. 181 Idee
(idea) is the thorough adequacy of thought to itself, the solution of the contradictions which attach to thought, and hence, in the last resort, the coincidence or equilibrium of subjective notion and objectivity, which are the ultimate expression of that fundamental antithesis in thought. Ibid.
§213. 304 The Idea is truth in itself and for itself,—the absolute unity of the notion and objectivity.
V. 12. attrib. and Comb. idea-monger; idea(s) man, a creative, inventive, or ingenious man.
in J. Cottle Early Recoll.
(1837) I. 171 No poor fellow’s idea-pot ever bubbled up so vehemently with fears, doubts, and difficulties. 1840 H. REEVE
tr. A. de Tocqueville’s Democracy in Amer.
. xiv. 123 For some few great authors..you may reckon thousands of idea-mongers. 1891 Pall Mall G.
10 Oct. 2/3 In most art matters we are quite eighteen years behind our idea-intoxicated neighbours. 1896 Daily News
26 Apr. 6/1 Mr. H…detests ‘idea’ politics and Republican ‘sentiments’ of every kind. 1909 Englishwoman
Apr. 305 Ibsen.. was not merely an ideamonger, but a dramatist. 1923 Glasgow Herald
25 Jan. 4/2 Mr. Wells is a prolific idea-monger. 1938 ‘E. QUEEN’ Four of Hearts
(1939) i. 10 You’re an idea man, and that’s what they pay off on in Hollywood. 1940 Ann. Reg. 1939
363 Bryan Wallace was appointed Ideas Man to the Government. 1954 KOESTLER Invis. Writing
xxxi. 333 He looked like the nonchalant impresario and idea-man of the great Comintern variety show. 1958
]. 1960 Guardian
16 Nov. 7/3 David Bean, the ideas man, has specialized in exposing traps laid for consumers. 1967 Ibid.
17 Feb. 8/5 Dilettante ideas-men like Teilhard de Chardin.
Oxford English Dictionary: The definitive record of the English language. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 June 2010. <http://oed.com>.