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[tuhn-l] /ˈtʌn l/
an underground passage.
a passageway, as for trains or automobiles, through or under an obstruction, as a city, mountain, river, harbor, or the like.
an approximately horizontal gallery or corridor in a mine.
the burrow of an animal.
Dialect. a funnel.
verb (used with object), tunneled, tunneling or (especially British) tunnelled, tunnelling.
to construct a passageway through or under:
to tunnel a mountain.
to make or excavate (a tunnel or underground passage):
to tunnel a passage under a river.
to move or proceed by or as if by boring a tunnel:
The river tunneled its way through the mountain.
to pierce or hollow out, as with tunnels.
verb (used without object), tunneled, tunneling or (especially British) tunnelled, tunnelling.
to make a tunnel or tunnels:
to tunnel through the Alps.
Origin of tunnel
late Middle English
1400-50; late Middle English tonel (noun) < Middle French tonele, tonnelle funnel-shaped net, feminine of tonnel cask, diminutive of tonne tun; see -elle
Related forms
tunneler; especially British, tunneller, noun
tunnellike, adjective
subtunnel, noun
untunneled, adjective
untunnelled, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for tunnelling
Historical Examples
  • It may also be added that the tunnelling companies all contained an appreciable number of Scottish miners.

  • The possibility of tunnelling in a vertical direction was now apparent.

    The Boy Tar Mayne Reid
  • Oh, no, you forget the reservoir and the tunnelling of Three Brothers for the aqueduct to Bridgeton!

    The Garden, You, and I Mabel Osgood Wright
  • It is a low-grade ore, I should say, and tunnelling and shoring would eat it up.

    Peter F. Hopkinson Smith
  • Large sums have been spent in sinking shafts from the top through the lava cap, and tunnelling into it from the sides.

    Human Origins Samuel Laing
  • We are tunnelling into the mountains, where are the great deposits of coal.

  • About this period, the Corps Commander directed the commencement of tunnelling operations at the Apex.

  • No tunnelling nor blasting of rocks is necessary to lure rivers to the ocean.

    A New Atmosphere Gail Hamilton
  • Our failure is not due to our failure to know what evil really is, but due to our wasteful way of tunnelling through it.

    Crowds Gerald Stanley Lee
  • But during that time your enemies are tunnelling their mine.

    The Deputy of Arcis Honore de Balzac
British Dictionary definitions for tunnelling


an underground passageway, esp one for trains or cars that passes under a mountain, river, or a congested urban area
any passage or channel through or under something
a dialect word for funnel
(obsolete) the flue of a chimney
verb -nels, -nelling, -nelled (US) -nels, -neling, -neled
(transitive) to make or force (a way) through or under (something): to tunnel a hole in the wall, to tunnel the cliff
(intransitive; foll by through, under, etc) to make or force a way (through or under something): he tunnelled through the bracken
Derived Forms
tunneller, (US) tunneler, noun
Word Origin
C15: from Old French tonel cask, from tonne tun, from Medieval Latin tonna barrel, of Celtic origin
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 tunnelling



mid-15c., "funnel-shaped net for catching birds," from Middle French tonnelle "net," or tonel "cask," diminutive of Old French tonne "tun, cask for liquids," possibly from the same source as Old English tunne (see tun).

Sense of "tube, pipe" (1540s) developed in English and led to sense of "underground passage," which is first attested 1765, about five years after the first modern tunnel was built (on the Grand Trunk Canal in England). This sense subsequently has been borrowed into French (1878). The earlier native word for this was mine. Meaning "burrow of an animal" is from 1873. Tunnel vision first recorded 1949. The figurative phrase light at the end of the tunnel is attested from 1922.


"excavate underground," 1795, from tunnel (n.).



"excavate underground," 1795, from tunnel (n.).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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tunnelling in Medicine

tunnel tun·nel (tŭn'əl)
A passage located through or under a barrier.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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Slang definitions & phrases for tunnelling



To go into hiding (1950s+ Underworld)

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 tunnelling
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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