Also found in: Thesaurus, Medical, Legal, Financial, Acronyms, Idioms, Encyclopedia.


1. A large cylindrical container, usually made of staves bound together with hoops, with a flat top and bottom of equal diameter.
2. The quantity that a barrel with a given or standard capacity will hold.
3. Abbr. bar. or bbl. or bl. Any of various units of volume or capacity. In the US Customary System it varies, as a liquid measure, from 31 to 42 gallons (117 to 159 liters) as established by law or usage.
4. A cylindrical or hollow part, especially:
a. The thicker portion of a baseball bat, from which the most powerful hits are struck.
b. The cylindrical part of a firearm through which the bullet travels.
c. A cylinder that contains a movable piston.
d. The drum of a capstan.
e. The cylinder within the mechanism of a timepiece that contains the mainspring.
5. The trunk of a quadruped animal, such as a horse or cow.
6. The tubular space inside a wave when it is breaking.
7. Informal A large quantity: a barrel of fun.
8. Slang An act or instance of moving rapidly, often recklessly, in a motor vehicle.
Resembling or similar to a barrel, as in shape: a barrel chest; barrel hips.
v. bar·reled, bar·rel·ing, bar·rels or bar·relled or bar·rel·ling
To put or pack in a barrel.
v.intr. Informal
To move or progress rapidly: "That the European Union barreled ahead was not surprising" (Richard W. Stevenson).
on the barrel/barrelhead
Granting, giving, or requesting no credit: paid cash on the barrel for the car.
over a barrel
In a very awkward position from which extrication is difficult: During the negotiations the opposing faction had us over a barrel.

[Middle English barel, from Old French baril.]
ThesaurusAntonymsRelated WordsSynonymsLegend:
Noun1.barrels - the amount that many barrels might holdbarrels - the amount that many barrels might hold
large indefinite amount, large indefinite quantity - an indefinite quantity that is above the average in size or magnitude
References in classic literature ?
I don't think the Parian Psyche Laurie gave lost any of its beauty because John put up the bracket it stood upon, that any upholsterer could have draped the plain muslin curtains more gracefully than Amy's artistic hand, or that any store-room was ever better provided with good wishes, merry words, and happy hopes than that in which Jo and her mother put away Meg's few boxes, barrels, and bundles, and I am morally certain that the spandy new kitchen never could have looked so cozy and neat if Hannah had not arranged every pot and pan a dozen times over, and laid the fire all ready for lighting the minute `Mis.
They have been put in barrels and shipped to the cities where they will be eaten in apartments that are filled with books, magazines, furniture, and people.
Shimerda snatched off the covers of two barrels behind the door, and made us look into them.
The imps have put all their strength again at the paddles, and we are to struggle for our scalps with bits of flattened wood, instead of clouded barrels and true eyes.
A curious eye, privileged to take an account of stock and investigate behind the counter, would have discovered a barrel, yea, two or three barrels and half ditto,--one containing flour, another apples, and a third, perhaps, Indian meal.
At one end of the room, in a recess, were a number of barrels piled one upon another, containing bundles of official documents.
On all sides he beheld vast store of apples: some hanging in oppressive opulence on the trees; some gathered into baskets and barrels for the market; others heaped up in rich piles for the cider-press.
Ever since young Stiggs coming from that unfort'nt v'y'ge of his, when he was gone four years and a half, with only three barrels of ile, was found dead in my first floor back, with his harpoon in his side; ever since then I allow no boarders to take sich dangerous weepons in their rooms at night.
Assuming the blubber to be the skin of the whale; then, when this skin, as in the case of a very large Sperm Whale, will yield the bulk of one hundred barrels of oil; and, when it is considered that, in quantity, or rather weight, that oil, in its expressed state, is only three fourths, and not the entire substance of the coat; some idea may hence be had of the enormousness of that animated mass, a mere part of whose mere integument yields such a lake of liquid as that.
In yet other rooms they were putting up meats in boxes and barrels, and wrapping hams and bacon in oiled paper, sealing and labeling and sewing them.
The trader searched the boat from stem to stern, among boxes, bales and barrels, around the machinery, by the chimneys, in vain.
it was as bright as glory, and you'd have a little glimpse of tree- tops a-plunging about away off yonder in the storm, hundreds of yards further than you could see before; dark as sin again in a second, and now you'd hear the thunder let go with an awful crash, and then go rum- bling, grumbling, tumbling, down the sky towards the under side of the world, like rolling empty barrels down stairs -- where it's long stairs and they bounce a good deal, you know.