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See also: keel haul


An English Tudor period (1485–1603) woodcut print of keelhauling


From Dutch kielhalen (keelhaul), from kiel (keel) + halen (fetch; catch).



keelhaul (third-person singular simple present keelhauls, present participle keelhauling, simple past and past participle keelhauled)

  1. (transitive, nautical) To punish by dragging under the keel of a ship.
    • 1838, D[onald] Moodie, comp., transl. and ed., “Abstract of Criminal Convictions before the Court of Justice, Cape of Good Hope.—1662–1672.”, in The Record; or, A Series of Official Papers Relative to the Condition and Treatment of the Native Tribes of South Africa, Part 1 (1649–1720), Cape Town: Published by A. S. Robertson, OCLC 906970414, page 312:
      March 11 [1667].—Hermans Jans, boatswain; disobedience of orders and stabbing his captain; sentenced to be degraded to common seaman, to be thrice keelhauled, to be well flogged, to have the knife stuck through his hand, and to forfeit, pro fisco, 6 months' wages.
    • 1873 October 1, “Mutiny Aboard. An Unsought Adventure.”, in The British Flag and Christian Sentinel (New Series), number 46, London: Army Scripture Readers' and Soldiers' Friend Society, OCLC 863731714, page 543, column 1:
      By degrees they became noisier and noisier, their conversation principally turning on that infernal naval lieutenant, as they were pleased to designate me, and what they intended to do with him. Some suggested “keelhauling” him; others, a dose of his favourite cat-o’nine tails; whilst many advised making a target of him for a little practice with that revolver which had previously so cowed them all.
    • 1973, Julius Epstein, Operation Keelhaul: The Story of Forced Repatriation from 1944 to the Present, Old Greenwich, Conn.: Devin-Adair Publishing Company, OCLC 247685353:
      To keelhaul is the cruelest and most dangerous of punishments and tortures ever devised for men aboard a ship. It involves trussing a man up with ropes, throwing him overboard, unable to swim, and hauling him under the boat's keel from one side to the other, or even from stem to stern. Most of those keelhauled under water are already dead when their punishment is over.
    • 2015, Téa Cooper, Forgotten Fragrance, North Sydney, N.S.W.: Escape Publishing, →ISBN:
      The Captain. They're going to keelhaul him. They have him tied to the yardarm. The crew have mutinied.
  2. (transitive) To rebuke harshly.
    • 1988, Bill James, Protection, London: Constable & Co., →ISBN:
      I've done these inquiries myself, Col. The top people can always put up such a bloody fine brick wall for themselves that no outsider has a chance of getting over or seeing through. But the same wall may stop some nonentity making his getaway, and he's the one the inquiry keelhauls.
    • 2004, Jeff Rovin, Tempest Down, New York, N.Y.: St. Martin's Griffin Press, ISBN 978-0-312-30761-5; republished New York, N.Y.: St. Martin's Paperbacks, May 2005, ISBN 978-0-312-93480-4, page 404:
      I've been asking myself the same question and there are two ways to answer it—yes and no. Yes, because he took on a responsibility no one else wanted—for the reasons we've all witnessed—and no because keelhauling him will be five percent about fixing what he may have done wrong and ninety-five percent about scapegoating.
    • 2013, Giorgio Faletti; Antony Shugaar, transl., The Pimp, London: C & R Crime, →ISBN:
      Time keelhauls me and what happens meanwhile is: nothing. No more voice, no more orders.

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