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From Middle English unpakken, equivalent to un- +‎ pack. Compare Saterland Frisian uutpakje (to unpack), West Frisian útpakke (to unpack), Dutch uitpakken (to unpack), German auspacken (to unpack).



unpack (third-person singular simple present unpacks, present participle unpacking, simple past and past participle unpacked)

  1. (transitive) To remove from a package or container, particularly with respect to items that had previously been arranged closely and securely in a pack.
    They didn't have time to unpack their bags before going out to dinner.
  2. (intransitive) To empty containers that had been packed.
    They didn't have time to unpack before going to dinner.
  3. (figuratively, transitive) To analyze a concept or a text; to explain.
    • 2013 September 20, Anne Enright, “A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride – review”, in The Guardian[1]:
      There may be another argument here, if we had time to unpack it, about modernism and the rise of the middle classes.
    • 2019 October 17, Steven Rattner, “Unpacking the Trade Deficit”, in The New York Times[2], ISSN 0362-4331:
      Yet few Americans — including the president — understand how global trade works, both how it can help our economy and how some can be left behind. Let’s try to unpack a few of the complexities.
    • 2021 March 8, Helen Sullivan, “Meghan and Harry: 12 things we learned from the Oprah special”, in The Guardian[3]:
      From a gender reveal to a secret ceremony and rifts with other royal family members, there was a lot to unpack from the interview
  4. (linguistics, of a segment such as a vowel) To undergo separation of its features into distinct segments.
    • 2000, in Language, volume 76, issues 1-2, page 337:
      The rounded vowels [y] and [œ/ə] in Russian seem to unpack as glide-vowel sequences in words borrowed from French and German, []
    • 2008, Katrin Dohlus, The Role of Phonology and Phonetics in Loanword Adaptation, page 73
      Whereas the high vowels /ʏ, y/ unpack, the mid vowels /œ, ø/ are adapted as single segments in these languages (see examples in (36) for Vietnamese (Barker 1969) and (37) for Fon (Gbeto 2000)). []
      French /y/ → Vietnamese /wi/
      accu [a'ky] → ac-quy [ak kwi]
    • 2011, John A. Goldsmith, Jason Riggle, Alan C. L. Yu (editors), The Handbook of Phonological Theory:
      The objective of these corpora was to check whether vowels other than nasal vowels systematically unpack in L1s that do not allow them.
  5. (computing, transitive) To unzip, decompress.
    • 2005, Matthias Kalle Dalheimer, Matt Welsh, Running Linux
      Packages [] are often archived and compressed using the zip utility; you can unpack these with the unzip command []