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noun (1)

bar·​bel ˈbär-bəl How to pronounce barbel (audio)
: a European freshwater cyprinid fish (Barbus barbus) with four barbels on its upper jaw
also : any of various closely related fishes


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noun (2)

: a slender tactile process on the lips of certain fishes (such as catfishes)

Examples of barbel in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web
Anglerfish famously use a glowing barbel to attract prey to their mouths, like moths to a flame. Brian Handwerk, Smithsonian Magazine, 1 Mar. 2022 In Africa, the unassuming barbel fish will swim among the hippos, cleansing the mighty beasts’ bodies of parasites. Sean McGowan, The New Yorker, 1 Oct. 2021 Filipina Hidelyn Diaz hoisted a barbel more than twice her body weight and won the women’s 55 kg category for weightlifting at the Tokyo 2020 games on Monday (July 26). Anne Quito, Quartz, 27 July 2021 The females in this species grow a bioluminescent lure on their heads, as well as a long, branchlike barbel on their lower jaw. Discover Magazine, 8 May 2014

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'barbel.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Noun (1)

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Vulgar Latin *barbellus, diminutive of Latin barbus barbel, from barba beard — more at beard

Noun (2)

obsolete French, from Middle French, diminutive of barbe barb, beard

First Known Use

Noun (1)

14th century, in the meaning defined above

Noun (2)

1601, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of barbel was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near barbel

Cite this Entry

“Barbel.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


: a slender process on the lip of some fishes (as a catfish) that is used for feeling

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