What meaning of FOR in "stumped for an answer", "lost for words", etc. I've gone through the OED looking for the right meaning to no avail, as well as other major dictionaries. https://www.oed.com/oed2/00087678

  • 1
    It's there: 26. a. As regards, with regard or respect to, concerning. //stumped as regards or with respect to an answer//lost with respect to or as regards words.
    – Lambie
    Sep 20, 2021 at 14:13

2 Answers 2


"Stumped for an answer" and "lost for words" are interesting expressions. My intuition is that they may have something to do with "reaching for" or "searching for" something, and related verbs that indicate difficulty with reaching or finding something ("scrambling for", "fumbling for").

At the end of the day, dictionaries are limited in how much detail they can provide about words like "for" and other major prepositions, whose meanings are malleable. Dictionaries are forced to compromise with vague definitions like "with respect to" (but that doesn't explain why people would say "I'm successful with money" and not "I'm successful for money" to mean that they're successful with respect to money).


This dictionary definition may fit: Merriam-Webster "for"(7)

7: with respect to : concerning
a stickler for detail
heavy for its size

Another use from the same definition
3 because of
would work as well, if you interpolate "lack of" in the phrases.

So your examples can be paraphrased as
Stumped concerning an answer or
Stumped because of [lack of] an answer
lost as to words or
lost because of [lack of] words.

Note that not all possible uses are enumerable in a dictionary.

Also, check out 23.c. in your OED reference:
c. Indicating the presence or operation of an obstacle or hindrance.
(again with "lack of")

  • Actually, MW's 7 is the OED's: 26. a. As regards, with regard or respect to, concerning. That coheres perfectly.
    – Lambie
    Sep 20, 2021 at 14:14

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