[verb ri-koil; noun ree-koil, ri-koil]

verb (used without object)

to draw back; start or shrink back, as in alarm, horror, or disgust.
to spring or fly back, as in consequence of force of impact or the force of the discharge, as a firearm.
to spring or come back; react (usually followed by on or upon): Plots frequently recoil upon the plotters.
Physics. (of an atom, a nucleus, or a particle) to undergo a change in momentum as a result either of a collision with an atom, a nucleus, or a particle or of the emission of a particle.


an act of recoiling.
the distance through which a weapon moves backward after discharging.

Origin of recoil

1175–1225; Middle English recoilen, reculen (v.) < Old French reculer, equivalent to re- re- + -culer, verbal derivative of cul rump, buttocks; see culet
Related formsre·coil·ing·ly, adverbnon·re·coil, noun
Can be confusedre-coil recoil

Synonyms for recoil

Synonym study

1. See wince1.



verb (used with or without object)

to coil again.

Origin of re-coil

First recorded in 1860–65; re- + coil1
Can be confusedre-coil recoil Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for recoil

Contemporary Examples of recoil

Historical Examples of recoil

  • You permit your heart (little did I think it was such a froward one) to recoil.

    Clarissa, Volume 1 (of 9)

    Samuel Richardson

  • The recoil, catching him in a bad posture, knocked him backward.

    The Leopard Woman

    Stewart Edward White

  • Shocked by the sound of my own name, I was ready to recoil abashed.

  • Doubtless the self-respect of the woman was in no way wounded by the master's recoil.

    Miracles of Our Lord

    George MacDonald

  • When events occur which disturb my life, I always have a movement of recoil.

    My Double Life

    Sarah Bernhardt

British Dictionary definitions for recoil


verb (rɪˈkɔɪl) (intr)

to jerk back, as from an impact or violent thrust
(often foll by from) to draw back in fear, horror, or disgustto recoil from the sight of blood
(foll by on or upon) to go wrong, esp so as to hurt the perpetrator
(of a nucleus, atom, molecule, or elementary particle) to change momentum as a result of the emission of a photon or particle

noun (rɪˈkɔɪl, ˈriːkɔɪl)

  1. the backward movement of a gun when fired
  2. the distance moved
the motion acquired by a particle as a result of its emission of a photon or other particle
the act of recoiling
Derived Formsrecoiler, noun

Word Origin for recoil

C13: from Old French reculer, from re- + cul rump, from Latin cūlus
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 recoil

early 13c. (transitive) "force back, drive back," from Old French reculer "to go back, give way, recede, retreat" (12c.), from Vulgar Latin *reculare, from Latin re- "back" (see re-) + culus "backside, bottom, fundament." Meaning "shrink back, retreat" is first recorded c.1300; and that of "spring back" (as a gun) in 1520s. Related: Recoiled; recoiling.


c.1300, "retreat," from Old French recul "recoil, backward movement, retreat," from reculer (see recoil (v.)). Meaning "back-kick of a firearm" is from 1570s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper