Soil is the dirt between our fingers as we garden or farm, from which all living things come and to which, as the poets never tire of reminding us, all life eventually returns. Such a big meaning for such a little word.

To soil something also means to make it dirty, or to degrade it in some way — strange given the natural purity of soil. Sometimes nations talk about their soil, meaning the geographical area over which they have governance. In England in the eighteenth and nineteenth century the euphemism "night soil" was used to describe the contents of the commodes people kept under their bed. But you probably didn't want to know that.

Definitions of soil

n material in the top layer of the surface of the earth in which plants can grow (especially with reference to its quality or use)

“good agricultural soil
ground, land
Bad Lands
an eroded and barren region in southwestern South Dakota and northwestern Nebraska
a large subtropical swamp in southern Florida that is noted for its wildlife
Okefenokee Swamp
a large swampy area of northeast Florida and southeast Georgia
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deeply eroded barren land
bottom, bottomland
low-lying alluvial land near a river
land in a coastal area
cultivated land, farmland, ploughland, plowland, tillage, tilled land, tilth
arable land that is worked by plowing and sowing and raising crops
the surface soil that must be moved away to get at coal seams and mineral deposits
ground that is permanently frozen
low-lying land that has been reclaimed and is protected by dikes (especially in the Netherlands)
land suitable for grazing livestock
(geology) flat elevated land with poor soil and little vegetation that is scarred by dry channels of glacial origin (especially in eastern Washington)
greensward, sod, sward, turf
surface layer of ground containing a mat of grass and grass roots
a low area where the land is saturated with water
bog, peat bog
wet spongy ground of decomposing vegetation; has poorer drainage than a swamp; soil is unfit for cultivation but can be cut and dried and used for fuel
a piece of turf dug out of a lawn or fairway (by an animals hooves or a golf club)
cultivated land that is not seeded for one or more growing seasons
fen, fenland, marsh, marshland
low-lying wet land with grassy vegetation; usually is a transition zone between land and water
swamp, swampland
low land that is seasonally flooded; has more woody plants than a marsh and better drainage than a bog
Type of:
object, physical object
a tangible and visible entity; an entity that can cast a shadow

n the part of the earth's surface consisting of humus and disintegrated rock

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a loose and crumbling earthy deposit consisting mainly of calcite or dolomite; used as a fertilizer for soils deficient in lime
a type of soil consisting of unconsolidated material from freshly deposited alluvium or sand
residual clay, residual soil
the soil that is remaining after the soluble elements have been dissolved
surface soil, topsoil
the layer of soil on the surface
subsoil, undersoil
the layer of soil between the topsoil and bedrock
alluvial soil
a fine-grained fertile soil deposited by water flowing over flood plains or in river beds
bog soil
poorly drained soils on top of peat and under marsh or swamp vegetation
a very fine-grained soil that is plastic when moist but hard when fired
hardened clay
desert soil, desertic soil
a type of soil that develops in arid climates
caliche, hardpan
crust or layer of hard subsoil encrusted with calcium-carbonate occurring in arid or semiarid regions
fuller's earth
an absorbent soil resembling clay; used in fulling (shrinking and thickening) woolen cloth and as an adsorbent
gilgai soil
soil in the melon holes of Australia
gumbo, gumbo soil
any of various fine-grained silty soils that become waxy and very sticky mud when saturated with water
partially decomposed organic matter; the organic component of soil
indurated clay
hardened clay
Indian red
a red soil containing ferric oxide; often used as a pigment
a red soil produced by rock decay; contains insoluble deposits of ferric and aluminum oxides
a rich soil consisting of a mixture of sand and clay and decaying organic materials
a fine-grained unstratified accumulation of clay and silt deposited by the wind
mold, mould
loose soil rich in organic matter
clay, mud
water soaked soil; soft wet earth
a soft oily clay used as a pigment (especially a reddish brown pigment)
podsol, podsol soil, podsolic soil, podzol, podzol soil
a soil that develops in temperate to cold moist climates under coniferous or heath vegetation; an organic mat over a grey leached layer
prairie soil
a type of soil occurring under grasses in temperate climates
a loose material consisting of grains of rock or coral
sedimentary clay
clay soil formed by sedimentary deposits
mud or clay or small rocks deposited by a river or lake
boulder clay, till
unstratified soil deposited by a glacier; consists of sand and clay and gravel and boulders mixed together
tundra soil
a black mucky soil with a frozen subsoil that is characteristic of Arctic and subarctic regions
a dark meadow soil rich in organic material; developed through poor drainage in humid grassy or sedge regions
the clay from which adobe bricks are made
a white clay (especially a white clay used by potters)
china clay, china stone, kaolin, kaoline, porcelain clay, terra alba
a fine usually white clay formed by the weathering of aluminous minerals (as feldspar); used in ceramics and as an absorbent and as a filler (e.g., in paper)
red clay
clay whose redness results from iron oxide
regur, regur soil
a rich black loam of India
bleaching clay, bleaching earth
an adsorbent clay that will remove coloring from oils
mud pie
a mass of mud that a child has molded into the shape of pie
chernozemic soil
a rich black loam of Russia
pipeclay, terra alba
fine white clay used in making tobacco pipes and pottery and in whitening leather
an absorbent aluminum silicate clay formed from volcanic ash
a heat-resistant clay
Kitty Litter
granulated clay; placed in a container where it absorbs the waste products of a cat or dog
potter's clay, potter's earth
clay that does not contain any iron; used in making pottery or for modeling
material used to daub walls
leaf mold, leaf mould, leaf soil
soil composed mainly of decaying leaves
mire, slop
deep soft mud in water or slush
Type of:
earth, ground
the loose soft material that makes up a large part of the land surface

n the geographical area under the jurisdiction of a sovereign state

“American troops were stationed on Japanese soil
Type of:
geographic area, geographic region, geographical area, geographical region
a demarcated area of the Earth

n the state of being covered with unclean things

dirt, filth, grease, grime, grunge, stain
Type of:
dirtiness, uncleanness
the state of being unsanitary

v make soiled, filthy, or dirty

“don't soil your clothes when you play outside!”
begrime, bemire, colly, dirty, grime
clean, make clean
make clean by removing dirt, filth, or unwanted substances from
clean, clean house, houseclean
clean and tidy up the house
be cleanable
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make unclean
contaminate, foul, pollute
make impure
stain by smearing or daubing with a dirty substance
cover or stain with slime
muddy, muddy up
dirty with mud
soil or stain with a splashed liquid
mire, muck, muck up, mud
soil with mud, muck, or mire
soil with or as with crock
blemish, spot
mar or impair with a flaw
infect, taint
contaminate with a disease or microorganism
moisten or soil
besmirch, smirch
smear so as to make dirty or stained
Type of:
alter, change, modify
cause to change; make different; cause a transformation

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