General English


  • verb to extend or enlarge beyond the proper limits


  • verb to pull something out, or make something longer


  • noun a tall, thin person. A term of cheerful mockery. The equivalent of the British streak, or rather the nickname ‘Lofty’, since stretch is often a term of address.
  • noun a period of imprisonment. This underworld term originally referred specifically to one year’s incarceration; it has now been generalised to mean a term of indeterminate length.


  • noun the straightening and extending of a part of the body, e.g. as an exercise
  • noun the straight part of a racecourse, especially the final section approaching the finishing line

Origin & History of “stretch”

Stretch comes from a prehistoric west Germanic *strakkjan (source also of German strecken and Dutch strekken). this was formed from a base *strak-, which probably also produced English straggle (14th c.). It is not certain where *strak- came from, but probably it was an alteration of *strak- ‘rigid’ (source of English starch and stark). Reversal of speech sounds (here a and r) is quite common; the process is known as metathesis. The notions of ‘rigidity’ and ‘stretching’ do not appear very compatible at first sight, but it is thought that the original application of stretch was to ‘stretching the limbs’, in the sense of making them straight or ‘stiff’. Straight comes from a former past participle of stretch.