1. A large cylindrical container, usually made of staves bound together with hoops, with a flat top and bottom of equal diameter.
2. The quantity that a barrel with a given or standard capacity will hold.
3. Abbr. bar. or bbl. or bl. Any of various units of volume or capacity. In the US Customary System it varies, as a liquid measure, from 31 to 42 gallons (117 to 159 liters) as established by law or usage.
4. A cylindrical or hollow part, especially:
a. The thicker portion of a baseball bat, from which the most powerful hits are struck.
b. The cylindrical part of a firearm through which the bullet travels.
c. A cylinder that contains a movable piston.
d. The drum of a capstan.
e. The cylinder within the mechanism of a timepiece that contains the mainspring.
5. The trunk of a quadruped animal, such as a horse or cow.
6. The tubular space inside a wave when it is breaking.
7. Informal A large quantity: a barrel of fun.
8. Slang An act or instance of moving rapidly, often recklessly, in a motor vehicle.
Resembling or similar to a barrel, as in shape: a barrel chest; barrel hips.
v. bar·reled, bar·rel·ing, bar·rels or bar·relled or bar·rel·ling
To put or pack in a barrel.
To move or progress rapidly: "That the European Union barreled ahead was not surprising" (Richard W. Stevenson).
on the barrel/barrelhead
Granting, giving, or requesting no credit: paid cash on the barrel for the car.
over a barrel
In a very awkward position from which extrication is difficult: During the negotiations the opposing faction had us over a barrel.
[Middle English barel, from Old French baril.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.