[bar-uh l]
See more synonyms for barrel on
  1. a cylindrical wooden container with slightly bulging sides made of staves hooped together, and with flat, parallel ends.
  2. 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
  3. any large quantity: a barrel of fun.
  4. any container, case, or part similar to a wooden barrel in form.
  5. Ordnance. the tube of a gun.
  6. Machinery. the chamber of a pump in which the piston works.
  7. a drum turning on a shaft, as in a weight-driven clock.
  8. Horology. the cylindrical case in a watch or clock within which the mainspring is coiled.
  9. Ornithology Obsolete. a calamus or quill.
  10. the trunk of a quadruped, especially of a horse, cow, etc.
  11. 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.
  12. a rotating horizontal cylinder in which manufactured objects are coated or polished by tumbling in a suitable substance.
  13. any structure having the form of a barrel vault.
  14. Also called throat. Automotive. a passageway in a carburetor that has the shape of a Venturi tube.
verb (used with object), bar·reled, bar·rel·ing or (especially British) bar·relled, bar·rel·ling.
  1. to put or pack in a barrel or barrels.
  2. to finish (metal parts) by tumbling in a barrel.
  3. Informal. to force to go or proceed at high speed: He barreled his car through the dense traffic.
verb (used without object), bar·reled, bar·rel·ing or (especially British) bar·relled, bar·rel·ling.
  1. Informal. to travel or drive very fast: to barrel along the highway.
  1. 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 formshalf-bar·rel, nounun·bar·reled, adjectiveun·bar·relled, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for barrel

pipe, cylinder, drum, cask, keg, hogshead, butt, vessel, receptacle, vat, firkin, tun, tub

Examples from the Web for barrel

Contemporary Examples of barrel

Historical Examples of barrel

British Dictionary definitions for barrel


  1. a cylindrical container usually bulging outwards in the middle and held together by metal hoops; cask
  2. Also called: barrelful the amount that a barrel can hold
  3. a unit of capacity used in brewing, equal to 36 Imperial gallons
  4. a unit of capacity used in the oil and other industries, normally equal to 42 US gallons or 35 Imperial gallons
  5. a thing or part shaped like a barrel, esp a tubular part of a machine
  6. the tube through which the projectile of a firearm is discharged
  7. horology the cylindrical drum in a watch or clock that is rotated by the mainspring
  8. the trunk of a four-legged animalthe barrel of a horse
  9. the quill of a feather
  10. informal a large measure; a great deal (esp in the phrases barrel of fun, barrel of laughs)
  11. Australian informal the hollow inner side of a wave
  12. over a barrel informal powerless
  13. scrape the barrel informal to be forced to use one's last and weakest resource
verb -rels, -relling or -relled or US -rels, -reling or -reled
  1. (tr) to put into a barrel or barrels
  2. (intr ; foll by along, in, etc) informal (intr) to travel or move very fast
  3. Australian informal to ride on the inside of a wave

Word Origin for barrel

C14: from Old French baril perhaps from barre bar 1
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 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

Idioms and Phrases with barrel


see both barrels; bottom of the barrel; cash on the barrelhead; like shooting fish in a barrel; lock, stock, and barrel; more fun than a barrel of monkeys; over a barrel; pork barrel; rotten apple (spoils the barrel).

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