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A New York City Subway train being shunted (verb sense 6) from one track to another
A shunt (noun sense 5) or minor traffic accident between a bus and a van in Plymouth in Devon, England, UK
An illustration of a cerebral shunt (noun sense 6) used to treat hydrocephalus. The shunt, shown by a black line, drains excess cerebrospinal fluid from the brain’s ventricles into the peritoneal cavity.

From Middle English shunten, schunten, schonten, schounten, shont, shonte, shount, shounten, shunte (to move rapidly or suddenly, jerk; to swerve, turn away; to avoid, dodge, escape, evade),[1] either:

The English word is cognate with Danish skynde (to hasten, hurry, speed), Icelandic skynda, skunda (to hasten), Middle High German schünden (to compel; to urge; to irritate), Norwegian skynde (to hurry, rush), Swedish skynda (to hasten, hurry; to scuttle, scurry). Outside Germanic, compare Albanian shkund (to shake; to swig).

As regards the noun sense, compare Middle English shunt (swerve; sudden jerk), derived from the verb.[3]



shunt (third-person singular simple present shunts, present participle shunting, simple past and past participle shunted)

  1. (transitive) To cause to move (suddenly), as by pushing or shoving; to give a (sudden) start to.
    Synonym: shove
    • [1877?], Jacques Geal, “We’re All Shunting”, in John Diprose, compiler, The Railway Song Book, London: Diprose & Bateman, [], OCLC 314368945, page 13, column 1:
      For we are all shuntingshuntingshunting / We're all shunting in this queer world of ours. / Nations are shunted like to our railway carriages: / As Napoleon shunted la belle France into war; / Princes are shunted into royal marriages; / Kings and Queens are shunted just like a railway car.
    • 1907 December, Mark Twain [pseudonym; Samuel Langhorne Clemens], “Extract from Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven: Taken from His Own MS.”, in Harper’s Monthly Magazine, volume CXVI, number DCXCI, New York, N.Y.: Harper & Brothers, OCLC 24998596, page 41, column 2:
      The comet was burning blue in the distance, like a sickly torch, when I first sighted him, but he begun to grow bigger and bigger as I crept up on him. [] Thinks I, it won't do to run into him, so I shunted to one side and tore along. By and by I closed up abreast of his tail.
  2. (transitive) To divert to a less important place, position, or state.
    • 1862 October, “Q.”, “On Being Shunted”, in London Society. An Illustrated Magazine of Light and Amusing Literature for the Hours of Relaxation, volume II, number IX, London: Office, 49 Fleet Street, E.C., OCLC 966610732, page 334, column 1:
      Here in England it is, thank God! the custom for us to shunt ourselves off the grand trunk railroad of business, in tearing up and down which our lives are mainly passed, into some quiet siding once every year. [] [W]hen July is running into August, and everything is breaking up, you feel that your business for the season—be it in commerce, law, or literature—is achieved, and that the time for your being temporarily shunted has arrived.
    • 1893 July 12, John Hall, “House of Representatives. First Readings—Financial Statement.”, in New Zealand. Parliamentary Debates. Fourth Session of the Eleventh Parliament. Legislative Council and House of Representatives, volume 79, Wellington: S. Costall, government printer, OCLC 191255532, page 415, column 1:
      This important question of the acquisition of Native lands has been treated as a perfect shuttlecock in the hands of the Government. [] So far as we know, it has not even been circulated amongst the Natives, so that it would be a monstrous thing to pass it into law this session. This question will therefore be necessarily shunted—the one question that is admitted to be of supreme importance to the Colony of New Zealand. Then, the question of the Native Land Courts is another of those which have been shunted.
  3. (transitive) To provide with a shunt.
    to shunt a galvanometer
    • 2008, Richard C. E. Anderson; Hugh J. L. Garton; John R. W. Kestle, “Treatment of Hydrocephalus with Shunts”, in A. Leland Albright; Ian F. Pollack; P. David Adelson; Birgitta Brandenburg, editor, Principles and Practice of Pediatric Neurosurgery, 2nd edition, New York, N.Y.: Thieme Medical Publishers, →ISBN, page 112, column 1:
      Routine preoperative shunting of tumor patients is no longer common practice because many patients remain shunt free after tumor removal. Dias and Albright reported a series of 58 patients with posterior fossa tumors and hydrocephalus. Twenty-five patients were shunted preoperatively, 17 had external ventricular drains (EVDs) and 16 had no preoperative ventricular catheterization. Twenty-four of the 33 patients not initially shunted remained shunt free at long-term follow-up.
  4. (transitive, computing) To move data in memory to a physical disk.
  5. (transitive, electricity) To divert electric current by providing an alternative path.
    • 1895 April 2, Merle J. Wightman, Regulation of Continuous-current Motors, US Patent 542,667, page 2:
      The method of running an electric motor herein set out, which consists in starting the motor with the two halves of its armature in series with a resistance in a two-pole field, then gradually cutting out the resistance, then including the resistance and shunting one-half the motor, then opening the circuit of the shunted half and throwing the two halves of the motor in multiple in a four-pole field, and finally, cutting out the resistance.
  6. (transitive, rail transport) To move a train from one track to another, or to move carriages, etc. from one train to another.
    • 1846, “Report”, in Report of the Officers of the Railway Department to the Lords of the Committee of the Privy Council for Trade: With Appendices I. & II. For the Years 1844–45. [] (House of Commons of the United Kingdom, 1846 Session, Accounts and Papers; 15 (Railway Department)), volume XXXIX, London: Printed by W[illiam] Clowes and Sons, [], for Her Majesty's Stationery Office, OCLC 926569917, class no. 3 (Accidents Attended with Personal Injury to Servants of the Company, under Circumstances Not Involving Danger to the Public), page xxi:
      Porter, run over while shunting a luggage train, in consequence of his getting entangled in shunting-rope.
  7. (transitive, chiefly road transport, informal, Britain) To have a minor collision, especially in a motor car.
    • 2017, Anders af Wåhlberg, “Traffic Accident Involvement Taxonomies”, in Driver Behaviour and Accident Research Methodology: Unresolved Problems (Human Factors in Road and Rail Transport), Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC Press, →ISBN:
      The main argument for the use of culpability as a categorizer is that some accidents can be said to be independent of the behaviour of at least one of the drivers, for example, being shunted when having stopped for a red light (in a slow and controlled manner, at least).
  8. (transitive, surgery) To divert the flow of a body fluid.
    • 1987, Anthony J. Raimondi, “Hydrocephalus”, in Pediatric Neurosurgery: Theoretical Principles; Art of Surgical Techniques, New York, N.Y.; Berlin: Springer-Verlag, DOI:10.1007/978-1-4757-4202-2, →ISBN, page 474, column 2:
      There are times when one has no alternative other than to attempt to shunt the cerebrospinal fluid into the pleural cavity, a potential space, which may occasionally be capable of absorbing the fluid.
  9. (transitive, obsolete, Britain, dialectal) To turn aside or away; to divert.

Derived terms[edit]

Terms derived from shunt (verb)



shunt (plural shunts)

  1. An act of moving (suddenly), as due to a push or shove.
  2. (electricity) A connection used as an alternative path between parts of an electrical circuit.
    • 1873, Fleeming Jenkin, “Galvanometers”, in Electricity and Magnetism, New York, N.Y.: D. Appleton and Co. [], §14, page 201:
      The sensibility of a galvanometer may be varied in a very simple manner by the use of what is termed a shunt. A shunt is a resistance coil, or coil of fine wire used to divert some definite portion of a current, taking it past a galvanometer instead of through its coils.
  3. (firearms) The shifting of the studs on a projectile from the deep to the shallow sides of the grooves in its discharge from a shunt gun.
    • 1865 October, “Rifled Guns and Missiles”, in Colburn’s United Service Magazine and Naval and Military Journal, part III, number CCCCXLIII, London: Hurst and Blackett, publishers, successors to Henry Colburn, [], OCLC 1017142186, page 170:
      In length, this gun was the same as the French, but weighed 9 cwt. less. It was rifled in six grooves on the shunt plan, in the form in which it has been generally applied to large guns, with the difference that some of the angles of the grooving were rounded off. [] To impede fouling, a slightly greater windage was allowed in the chamber of the shunt gun, the diameter there being 0.04 greater than at the mouth of the bore.
    • 1870, Charles Orde Browne, “Section II. Muzzle-loading Armstrong, Shunt System.”, in Ammunition. A Descriptive Treatise on the Different Projectiles, Charges, Fuzes, &c., at Present in Use for Land and Sea Service, and on Other War Stores Manufactured in the Royal Laboratory, part II (Ammunition for Rifled Ordnance), London: Printed under the superintendence of Her Majesty's Stationery Office by George Edward Eyre and William Spottiswoode, [], OCLC 181668023, page 108:
      The shunt system, of which the 64-pr. is the only example now in the service, has been considered inferior to the Woolwich, because besides being unnecessarily complicated, the grooves which are cut with abrupt sharp angles weaken the gun. [] [I]n the shunt gun, however, in addition to the mere fact of the driving side of the double groove being shallow, and the loading side deep, the two grooves join in one deep one at 2 feet 7.5 inches from the muzzle, []
  4. (medicine, veterinary medicine) An abnormal passage between body channels.
    • 2018, Jon[athan David] Wray, “Case 11 Presenting with Mentation Abnormalities”, in Canine Internal Medicine: What’s Your Diagnosis?, Hoboken, N.J.; Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, John Wiley & Sons, →ISBN, section C (Hepatobiliary Disease), page 127:
      Portosystemic shunts can be congenital or acquired with congenital PSS commonly comprising a single communicating vessel between the portal venous circulation and the systemic circulation via the caudal vena cava or azygos vein. Of congenital shunts, 66–75% are extrahepatic. Intrahepatic portosystemic shunts are most commonly identified in larger breeds of dog (though we have also seen a number of terriers with intrahepatic shunts through our clinic).
  5. (surgery) A passage between body channels constructed surgically as a bypass; a tube inserted into the body to create such a passage.
    • 2011 October, T. H. Chen [et al.], “Combined Ventriculoperitoneal Shunt Blockage, Viscus Perforation and Migration into Urethra, Presenting with Repeated Urinary Tract Infection”, in Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, volume 93, number 7, DOI:10.1308/147870811X602212, PMID 22004629, abstract, page e151:
      We present an extremely rare case of delayed and combined ventriculoperitoneal shunt blockage, viscus perforation and migration into the urethra manifested by a repeated urinary tract infection. This was discovered six months after the shunt was inserted.
  6. (rail transport) A switch on a railway used to move a train from one track to another.
    • 1838 December 17, John Hawkshaw, “[Recent Patents.] To John Hawkshaw, of Manchester, in the County of Lancaster, Civil Engineer, for His Invention of Certain Improvements in Mechanism or Apparatus Applicable to Railways, and also to Carriages to be Used thereon”, in W[illiam] Newton, editor, The London Journal and Repertory of Arts, Sciences, and Manufactures, volume XV (Conjoined Series), number XCII, London: Published by W. Newton, [], published 1840, OCLC 1029229898, page 74:
      These improvements consist, firstly, in a novel construction of apparatus to be attached to or applied upon railways, at those parts termed switches, shunts, or moveable rails, which are commonly used for transferring engines, carriages, or trains, from one line of rails to another, as occasion may require, and which apparatus I call a "switch or shunt protector."
  7. (chiefly road transport, informal, Britain) A minor collision between vehicles.
    • 2017, Eddie Irvine; with Maurice Hamilton, “No Big Deal”, in Green Races Red, updated edition, London: CollinsWillow, →ISBN:
      At the first race in Brazil, I became involved in a four-car shunt. I won't go into too much detail now, except to say that the accident had nothing to do with me. [] Everyone else was avoiding the accident when [Jos] Verstappen lost control on the grass, came right into me – and off we all went. It was a huge shunt.

Derived terms[edit]



  1. ^ shunten, v.” in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007, retrieved 5 July 2018.
  2. ^ shǒnen, v.” in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007, retrieved 5 July 2018.;
  3. ^ shunt, n.” in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007, retrieved 5 July 2018.

Further reading[edit]