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[tangk] /tæŋk/
a large receptacle, container, or structure for holding a liquid or gas:
tanks for storing oil.
a natural or artificial pool, pond, or lake.
Military. an armored, self-propelled combat vehicle, armed with cannon and machine guns and moving on a caterpillar tread.
Slang. a prison cell or enclosure for more than one occupant, as for prisoners awaiting a hearing.
verb (used with object)
to put or store in a tank.
verb (used without object)
Slang. to do poorly or decline rapidly; fail:
The movie tanked at the box office.
Verb phrases
tank up,
  1. to fill the gas tank of an automobile or other motor vehicle.
  2. Slang. to drink a great quantity of alcoholic beverage, especially to intoxication.
go in / into the tank, Boxing Slang. to go through the motions of a match but deliberately lose because of an illicit prearrangement or fix; throw a fight.
in the tank, Slang.
  1. failing, doing poorly, or declining:
    His grades were in the tank last quarter.
  2. favoring, colluding, or assisting in a partisan way (often followed by with or for):
    The talk-show host was in the tank with the Green Party.
Origin of tank
1610-20; perhaps jointly < Gujarati tānkh reservoir, lake, and Portuguese tanque, contraction of estanque pond, literally, something dammed up, derivative of estancar (< Vulgar Latin *stanticāre) to dam up, weaken; adopted as a cover name for the military vehicle during the early stages of its manufacture in England (December, 1915)
Related forms
tankless, adjective
tanklike, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for tanking
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • The keeper of the hotel informed them that many of the Indians already were in town and were "tanking up."

    The Candidate Joseph Alexander Altsheler
  • It put her out a little; for she was really feeling some pity for Grizzel, and did not at all intend to “get tanking” at her.

    Johnny Ludlow. First Series Mrs. Henry Wood
British Dictionary definitions for tanking


a large container or reservoir for the storage of liquids or gases: tanks for storing oil
  1. an armoured combat vehicle moving on tracks and armed with guns, etc, originally developed in World War I
  2. (as modifier): a tank commander, a tank brigade
(Brit & US, dialect) a reservoir, lake, or pond
  1. a light-tight container inside which a film can be processed in daylight, the solutions and rinsing waters being poured in and out without light entering
  2. any large dish or container used for processing a number of strips or sheets of film
(slang, mainly US)
  1. a jail
  2. a jail cell
Also called tankful. the quantity contained in a tank
(Austral) a dam formed by excavation
(transitive) to put or keep in a tank
(intransitive) to move like a tank, esp heavily and rapidly
(slang) to defeat heavily
(intransitive) (informal) to fail, esp commercially
See also tank up
Derived Forms
tankless, adjective
tanklike, adjective
Word Origin
C17: from Gujarati tānkh artificial lake, but influenced also by Portuguese tanque, from estanque pond, from estancar to dam up, from Vulgar Latin stanticāre (unattested) to block, stanch
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 tanking



"to lose or fail," 1976, originally in tennis jargon, but said there to be from boxing, from tank (n.) in some sense. Related: Tanked; tanking. Adjective tanked "drunk" is from 1893.



1610s, "pool or lake for irrigation or drinking water," a word originally brought by the Portuguese from India, ultimately from Gujarati tankh "cistern, underground reservoir for water," Marathi tanken, or tanka "reservoir of water, tank."

Perhaps from Sanskrit tadaga-m "pond, lake pool," and reinforced in later sense of "large artificial container for liquid" (1680s) by Portuguese tanque "reservoir," from estancar "hold back a current of water," from Vulgar Latin *stanticare (see stanch). But others say the Portuguese word is the source of the Indian ones.

Meaning "fuel container" is recorded from 1902. Military use originated 1915, partly as a code word, partly because they looked like benzene tanks. They were first used in action at Pozieres ridge, on the Western Front, Sept. 15, 1916. Slang meaning "detention cell" is from 1912.

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



(also fish tank, fish bowl, holding tank) A detention cell; a jail cell: when he goes into the tank as a prisoner/ I'm in the fish tank. There are forty of us in the diagnostic center (entry form 1912+)


  1. (also tank up) To drink liquor, esp heavily: I think he'd tanked up a good deal at luncheon (1902+)
  2. To lose a game, match, etc, deliberately; throw: He lost so implausibly they were sure he had tanked/ the ''tanking'' of unlucrative doubles matches merely to catch a plane (1976+ Sports)
  3. To fall precipitately; collapse: At FBI headquarters, morale has tanked after the Idaho investigation/ Analysts say Texaco shares could tank to $25–$30 in bankruptcy (1980s+)

Related Terms

drunk tank, go into the tank, think tank

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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Idioms and Phrases with tanking


In addition to the idiom beginning with tank also see: think tank
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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