General English


  • noun the rear part of a ship.
  • noun a thin sheet of metal or plastic or stiff card, out of which letters or numbers or other shapes have been cut, and which is placed on the surface of an object (e.g. vehicle, container, etc) and painted over to reproduce the shapes on the surface below
  • noun a stiff sheet of plastic, out of which a selection of geometrical shapes have been cut, and which is used for drawing tactical symbols on a map

Origin & History of “stern”

English has two distinct words stern. The older, the adjective ‘severe’ (OE), comes from a prehistoric Germanic *sternjaz, which was probably derived from the base *ster-, *star- ‘be rigid’ (source also of English starch, stare, starve, etc). Stern ‘rear of a vessel’ (13th c.) is etymologically the ‘steering’ end of a ship. The word was probably borrowed from Old Norse stjórn ‘steering’, a derivative of the same base as produced stýra ‘steer’ (source of English steer).