General English


  • adjective concerned with or applicable to a whole group of people or things


  • adjective ordinary or not special
  • adjective dealing with everything or with everybody

Information & Library Science

  • adjective for all or most people, cases or things


  • noun a senior army commander (not necessarily holding the rank of general)
  • noun a senior rank in the British Army or Marines
  • abbreviationGen


  • adjective including or affecting everything or nearly all of something

Origin & History of “general”

General is one of a vast range of English words which go back ultimately to the prehistoric Indo-European base *gen-, *gon-, *gn-, denoting ‘produce’. Its Germanic offshoots include kin, kind, and probably king, but for sheer numbers it is the Latin descendants genus ‘race, type’, gēns ‘race, people’, gignere ‘beget’, and nāscī ‘be born’ (source of nation, nature, etc) that have been the providers. From genus come gender (14th c.) and its French-derived counterpart genre (19th c.), generate (16th c.), generation (13th c.), generic (17th c.), generous, and genus (16th c.) itself. Gēns produced genteel, gentile, gentle, and gentry, while gignere was the source of genital (14th c.), genitive (14th c.), gingerly (16th c.) (originally ‘daintily’, as if befitting someone of ‘noble birth’), indigenous, and ingenuous. A separate Latin strand is represented by genius and genie, and its derivative genial, while Greek descendants of Indo-European *gen-, *gon- are responsible for gene (20th c.), genealogy (13th c.), genesis (OE), genetic (19th c.), genocide (20th c.) (apparently coined by the polish-born American jurist Raphael Lemkin in 1944), and gonorrhoea (16th c.) (literally ‘flow of semen’).

As for general itself, it comes via Old French general from Latin generālis ‘of the genus or type (as a whole)’, particularly as contrasted with speciālis ‘of the species’ (source of English special). The application of the noun general to ‘senior military officer’ originated in the 16th century as an abbreviation of the phrase captain general (where the general was an adjective), a translation of French capitaine générale.