1. any identifying or distinguishing mark or characteristic: The mayor’s statement had all the earmarks of dirty politics.
  2. a mark of identification made on the ear of an animal to show ownership.
  3. a provision in a piece of Congressional legislation that directs specified federal funds to specific projects, programs, organizations, or individuals: Lawmakers requested almost 40,000 earmarks worth more than $100 billion directed to their home districts and states.Compare pork barrel.

verb (used with object)

  1. to set aside for a specific purpose, use, recipient, etc.: to earmark goods for export.
  2. to mark with an earmark.

verb (tr)

  1. to set aside or mark out for a specific purpose
  2. to make an identification mark on the ear of (a domestic animal)


  1. a mark of identification on the ear of a domestic animal
  2. any distinguishing mark or characteristic

1590s, “to identify by an earmark,” from earmark (n.). Meaning “to set aside money for a special purpose” is attested by 1868. Related: Earmarked; earmarking.


late 15c., from ear (n.1) + mark (n.1). Originally a cut or mark in the ear of sheep and cattle, serving as a sign of ownership (also a punishment of certain criminals); first recorded 1570s in figurative sense “stamp of ownership.”

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