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a cylindrical wooden container with slightly bulging sides made of staves hooped together, and with flat, parallel ends.
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.
any large quantity:
a barrel of fun.
any container, case, or part similar to a wooden barrel in form.
Ordnance. the tube of a gun.
Machinery. the chamber of a pump in which the piston works.
a drum turning on a shaft, as in a weight-driven clock.
Horology. the cylindrical case in a watch or clock within which the mainspring is coiled.
Ornithology Obsolete. a calamus or quill.
the trunk of a quadruped, especially of a horse, cow, etc.
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.
a rotating horizontal cylinder in which manufactured objects are coated or polished by tumbling in a suitable substance.
any structure having the form of a barrel vault.
Also called throat. Automotive. a passageway in a carburetor that has the shape of a Venturi tube.
to put or pack in a barrel or barrels.
to finish (metal parts) by tumbling in a barrel.
Informal. to force to go or proceed at high speed:
He barreled his car through the dense traffic.
Informal. to travel or drive very fast:
to barrel along the highway.
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.
Contemporary Examples

It is a view that suggests, to paraphrase Mao, that justice grows out of the barrel of a gun.
The Wyatt Earp Myth: America’s Most Famous Vigilante Wasn’t Andrew C. Isenberg July 20, 2013

As you can see on your screens, this young soldier is trying to strangle me with the barrel of his carbine.
This 1979 Novel Predicted Putin’s Invasion Of Crimea Michael Weiss May 17, 2014

Too much time in barrel equals a woody tasting, overly buttery, finish.
William Shatner Picks His Favorite Wines William Shatner July 3, 2014

With oil above $100 a barrel, and gas nearing $4 a gallon, doomsayers wrongly predict the end of the recovery.
Don’t Freak About Oil Prices! Zachary Karabell March 8, 2011

Paying cash on the barrel–or reducing your debt balances–raises the pain of acquiring the stuff.
Ask the Blogger Megan McArdle December 2, 2012

Historical Examples

On the island thus formed the barrel and some coal-bags floated about in the channel.
Farthest North Fridtjof Nansen

A barrel may sound hollow, but not a bird–this wiseacre acquaints us.
De Libris: Prose and Verse Austin Dobson

In one of the huts was discovered the barrel of a carbine and percussion lock.
In Darkest Africa, Vol. 1; or, The quest, rescue and retreat of Emin, governor of Equatoria Henry Morton Stanley

On top of the barrel was a tin coffeepot, a china cup, and half a loaf of bread.
The Underdog F. Hopkinson Smith

He received a summons to appear before the president, who said: “Sir, I am informed that you have a barrel of ale in your room.”
The American Joe Miller Various

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

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.

v,v phr

To speed, esp to drive a car very fast (late 1920s+)

Related Terms

cracker-barrel, in the barrel, like shooting fish in a barrel, over a barrel, scrape the bottom of the barrel

a vessel used for keeping flour (1 Kings 17:12, 14, 16). The same word (cad) so rendered is also translated “pitcher,” a vessel for carrying water (Gen. 24:14; Judg. 7:16).


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)


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