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From Middle English reel, reele, from Old English rēol, hrēol. Cognate with Icelandic ræl, hræl.



reel (plural reels)

  1. A lively dance of the Highlanders of Scotland; also, the music to the dance; -- often called Scotch reel.
  2. A frame with radial arms, or a kind of spool, turning on an axis, on which yarn, threads, lines, or the like, are wound
    a log reel, used by seamen
    an angler's reel
    a garden reel
  3. A machine on which yarn is wound and measured into lays and hanks, -- for cotton or linen it is fifty-four inches in circuit; for worsted, thirty inches.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of McElrath to this entry?)
  4. A device consisting of radial arms with horizontal stats, connected with a harvesting machine, for holding the stalks of grain in position to be cut by the knives.
  5. A short compilation of sample film work used as a demonstrative resume in the entertainment industry.



reel (third-person singular simple present reels, present participle reeling, simple past and past participle reeled)

  1. To wind on a reel.
  2. To spin or revolve repeatedly.
  3. To unwind, to bring or acquire something by spinning or winding something else.
    He reeled off some tape from the roll and sealed the package.
  4. To walk shakily or unsteadily; to stagger; move as if drunk or not in control of oneself.
    • 1907, Harold Bindloss, chapter 30, The Dust of Conflict[1]:
      It was by his order the shattered leading company flung itself into the houses when the Sin Verguenza were met by an enfilading volley as they reeled into the calle.
    • Bible, Psalms cvii. 27
      They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man.
    • Alexander Pope
      He, with heavy fumes oppressed, / Reeled from the palace, and retired to rest.
    • Macaulay
      the wagons reeling under the yellow sheaves
  5. (reel back) To back off or step away unsteadily and quickly.
    He reeled back from the punch.
  6. To make or cause to reel.
  7. To have a whirling sensation; to be giddy.
    • Nathaniel Hawthorne
      In these lengthened vigils his brain often reeled.
  8. To be in shock.
    • 2012 October 31, David M. Halbfinger, "[2]," New York Times (retrieved 31 October 2012):
      New Jersey was reeling on Wednesday from the impact of Hurricane Sandy, which has caused catastrophic flooding here in Hoboken and in other New York City suburbs, destroyed entire neighborhoods across the state and wiped out iconic boardwalks in shore towns that had enchanted generations of vacationgoers.
  9. (obsolete) To roll.
    • Spenser
      And Sisyphus an huge round stone did reel.


to stagger
  • 1996, Janette Turner Hospital, Oyster, Virago Press, paperback edition, page 111
    Sarah reels a little, nevertheless, under the dog's boisterous greeting.

Derived terms[edit]




Etymology 1[edit]

From French réel (real), from Medieval Latin reālis (actual).


  • IPA(key): /rɛɛl/, [ʁɛˈɛlˀ], [ʁeˈɛlˀ]


reel (neuter reelt, definite and plural reelle, not comparable)

  1. real, proper
  2. reliable, trustworthy, honest (about a person)

Etymology 2[edit]

From English reel.


  • IPA(key): /riːl/, [ʁiːˀl], [ʁiːl], [ɹiːl]


reel c (singular definite reelen, plural indefinite reeler)

  1. (dance) reel