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[bar-uh l] /ˈbær əl/
a cylindrical wooden container with slightly bulging sides made of staves hooped together, and with flat, parallel ends.
the quantity that such a vessel of some standard size can hold: for most liquids, 31½ U.S. gallons (119 L); for petroleum, 42 U.S. gallons (159 L); for dry materials, 105 U.S. dry quarts (115 L).
Abbreviation: bbl.
any large quantity:
a barrel of fun.
any container, case, or part similar to a wooden barrel in form.
Ordnance. the tube of a gun.
Machinery. the chamber of a pump in which the piston works.
a drum turning on a shaft, as in a weight-driven clock.
Horology. the cylindrical case in a watch or clock within which the mainspring is coiled.
Ornithology Obsolete. a calamus or quill.
the trunk of a quadruped, especially of a horse, cow, etc.
Nautical. the main portion of a capstan, about which the rope winds, between the drumhead at the top and the pawl rim at the bottom.
a rotating horizontal cylinder in which manufactured objects are coated or polished by tumbling in a suitable substance.
any structure having the form of a barrel vault.
Also called throat. Automotive. a passageway in a carburetor that has the shape of a Venturi tube.
verb (used with object), barreled, barreling or (especially British) barrelled, barrelling.
to put or pack in a barrel or barrels.
to finish (metal parts) by tumbling in a barrel.
Informal. to force to go or proceed at high speed:
He barreled his car through the dense traffic.
verb (used without object), barreled, barreling or (especially British) barrelled, barrelling.
Informal. to travel or drive very fast:
to barrel along the highway.
over a barrel, Informal. in a helpless, weak, or awkward position; unable to act:
They really had us over a barrel when they foreclosed the mortgage.
Origin of barrel
1250-1300; Middle English barell < Anglo-French baril, Old French barril < Vulgar Latin *barrīculum, equivalent to *barrīc(a), perhaps derivative of Late Latin barra bar1 + Latin -ulum -ule; compare Medieval Latin (circa 800) barriclus small cask
Related forms
half-barrel, noun
unbarreled, adjective
unbarrelled, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for barrel
  • He had pulled an old plastic sled out of the garage and filled it up with water from our rain barrel.
  • Each of the caps of a vault's barrel is made from a ring of proteins.
  • Lift the barrel unit from around the compost and set it beside the current compost heap.
  • So, preventing the pipeline from being built will not stop a single barrel of oil from being burned.
  • The dollar price per barrel is the dollar price for a barrel regardless if the dollar is rising or falling.
  • In areas of intermittent precipitation, a rain barrel can be utilized between rainstorms.
  • To fire it, a cap placed at the middle of the barrel is lit.
  • When a storm blows in, let it rain for an hour before you divert what's coming down the downspout into your barrel.
  • The traditional potato gun uses a barrel that is attached to a combustion chamber.
  • It's either cash on the barrel or electronic transfers between bank accounts.
British Dictionary definitions for barrel


a cylindrical container usually bulging outwards in the middle and held together by metal hoops; cask
Also called barrelful. the amount that a barrel can hold
a unit of capacity used in brewing, equal to 36 Imperial gallons
a unit of capacity used in the oil and other industries, normally equal to 42 US gallons or 35 Imperial gallons
a thing or part shaped like a barrel, esp a tubular part of a machine
the tube through which the projectile of a firearm is discharged
(horology) the cylindrical drum in a watch or clock that is rotated by the mainspring
the trunk of a four-legged animal: the barrel of a horse
the quill of a feather
(informal) a large measure; a great deal (esp in the phrases barrel of fun, barrel of laughs)
(Austral, informal) the hollow inner side of a wave
(informal) over a barrel, powerless
(informal) scrape the barrel, to be forced to use one's last and weakest resource
verb -rels, -relling, -relled (US) -rels, -reling, -reled
(transitive) to put into a barrel or barrels
(intransitive; foll by along, in, etc) (informal) (intransitive) to travel or move very fast
(Austral, informal) to ride on the inside of a wave
Word Origin
C14: from Old French baril perhaps from barrebar1
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for barrel

c.1300, from Old French baril (12c.) "barrel, cask, vat," with cognates in all Romance languages (e.g. Italian barile, Spanish barril), but origin uncertain; perhaps from Gaulish, perhaps somehow related to bar (n.1). Meaning "metal tube of a gun" is from 1640s. Barrel roll in aeronautics is from 1927.


mid-15c., "to put in barrels," from barrel (n.). Meaning "to move quickly" is 1930, American English slang, perhaps suggestive of a rolling barrel. Related: Barreled; barreling.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for barrel


v,v phr

To speed, esp to drive a car very fast (late 1920s+)

Related Terms

cracker-barrel, in the barrel, like shooting fish in a barrel, over a barrel, scrape the bottom of the barrel

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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barrel in the Bible

a vessel used for keeping flour (1 Kings 17:12, 14, 16). The same word (cad) so rendered is also translated "pitcher," a vessel for carrying water (Gen. 24:14; Judg. 7:16).

Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary
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Idioms and Phrases with barrel
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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