• synonyms


See more synonyms on Thesaurus.com
  1. a cylinder, frame, or other device that turns on an axis and is used to wind up or pay out something.
  2. a rotatory device attached to a fishing rod at the butt, for winding up or letting out the line.
  3. Photography.
    1. a spool on which film, especially motion-picture film, is wound.
    2. a roll of motion-picture film.
    3. a holder for roll film in a developing tank.
  4. a quantity of something wound on a reel.
  5. Chiefly British. a spool of sewing thread; a roller or bobbin of sewing thread.
verb (used with object)
  1. to wind on a reel, as thread, yarn, etc.
  2. to unwind (silk filaments) from a cocoon.
  3. to pull or draw by winding a line on a reel: to reel a fish in.
Verb Phrases
  1. reel off, to say, write, or produce quickly and easily: The old sailor reeled off one story after another.
  1. off the reel,
    1. without pause; continuously.
    2. without delay or hesitation; immediately.
    Also right off the reel.

Origin of reel1

before 1050; (noun) Middle English rele, Old English hrēol; cognate with Old Norse hræll weaver's rod; (v.) Middle English relen, derivative of rele
Related formsreel·a·ble, adjective


verb (used without object)
  1. to sway or rock under a blow, shock, etc.: The boxer reeled and fell.
  2. to waver or fall back: The troops reeled and then ran.
  3. to sway about in standing or walking, as from dizziness, intoxication, etc.; stagger.
  4. to turn round and round; whirl.
  5. to have a sensation of whirling: His brain reeled.
verb (used with object)
  1. to cause to reel.
  1. an act of reeling; a reeling or staggering movement.

Origin of reel2

1300–50; Middle English relen, apparently derivative of rele reel1


See more synonyms on Thesaurus.com
3. See stagger.


  1. a lively Scottish dance.
  2. Virginia reel.
  3. music for either of these dances.

Origin of reel3

First recorded in 1575–85; special use of reel2
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for reel

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • But Pa had a sister who was reel good-lookin', an' some says you've got her eyes.

  • It flung away from him, the wire screaming from the reel behind it.

    Salvage in Space

    John Stewart Williamson

  • I reel in whenever practicable and kill the fish on the line.

    Black Bass

    Charles Barker Bradford

  • Guide it to its place with the thumb, and run it from side to side of the reel like cotton on a spool.

    Black Bass

    Charles Barker Bradford

  • There was a reel and there were sound-speakers to keep the ship from sounding like a grave.

    Pariah Planet

    Murray Leinster

British Dictionary definitions for reel


  1. any of various cylindrical objects or frames that turn on an axis and onto which film, magnetic tape, paper tape, wire, thread, etc, may be woundUS equivalent: spool
  2. angling a device for winding, casting, etc, consisting of a revolving spool with a handle, attached to a fishing rod
  3. a roll of celluloid exhibiting a sequence of photographs to be projected
verb (tr)
  1. to wind (cotton, thread, etc) onto a reel
  2. (foll by in, out etc) to wind or draw with a reelto reel in a fish
Derived Formsreelable, adjectivereeler, noun

Word Origin

Old English hrēol; related to Old Norse hrǣll weaver's rod, Greek krekein to weave


verb (mainly intr)
  1. to sway, esp under the shock of a blow or through dizziness or drunkenness
  2. to whirl about or have the feeling of whirling abouthis brain reeled
  1. a staggering or swaying motion or sensation

Word Origin

C14 relen, probably from reel 1


  1. any of various lively Scottish dances, such as the eightsome reel and foursome reel for a fixed number of couples who combine in square and circular formations
  2. a piece of music having eight quavers to the bar composed for or in the rhythm of this dance

Word Origin

C18: from reel ²
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

Word Origin and History for reel


"frame turning on an axis," especially one on which thread is wound, late Old English hreol "reel for winding thread," from Proto-Germanic *hrehulaz; probably related to hrægel "garment," and Old Norse hræll "spindle," from PIE *krek- "to weave, beat" (cf. Greek krokus "nap of cloth").

Specifically of the fishing rod attachment from 1726; of a film projector apparatus from 1896. Reel-to-reel type of tape deck is attested from 1958.


"lively Highland dance," 1580s, probably a special use of reel (n.1), which had a secondary sense of "a whirl, whirling movement" (1570s) or from reel (v.1). Applied to the music for such a dance from 1590s.


"to whirl around," late 14c., also "sway, swing, rock, become unsteady" (late 14c.), "stagger as a result of a blow, etc." (c.1400), probably from reel (n.1), on notion of "spinning." Of the mind, from 1796. Related: Reeled; reeling.


"to wind on a reel," late 14c., from reel (n.1). Verbal phrase reel off "recite without pause or effort" is from 1837. Fishing sense is from 1849. Related: Reeled; reeling.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper