keel·​haul | \ ˈkēl-ˌhȯl How to pronounce keelhaul (audio) \
keelhauled; keelhauling; keelhauls

Definition of keelhaul

transitive verb

1 : to haul under the keel of a ship as punishment or torture
2 : to rebuke severely

Keep scrolling for more

The Brutal History of Keelhaul

In the mid-1600s, British monarchs were intent on using their powerful navy to expand their empire. Insubordination was not tolerated, and mutinous sailors were disciplined severely to discourage others from similar rebellion. Keelhauling was one of the worst penalties that could befall a renegade mariner. Although they definitely practiced the gruesome punishment, the British did not invent it—the Dutch did. Keelhaul is a translation of the Dutch word kielhalen, which means "to haul under the keel of a ship." Even after the practice was banned on European naval vessels in the mid-1800s, the word keelhaul remained in English as a term for a severe scolding.

Examples of keelhaul in a Sentence

there's no need to keelhaul him—it was an honest mistake, and a small one at that

Recent Examples on the Web

The threat posed by the AT&T-Time Warner merger is all the greater today because of the Trump administration’s initiative in keelhauling network neutrality at the Federal Communications Commission. Michael Hiltzik,, "The blueprint for the disastrous AT&T-Time Warner deal was written years ago by the Comcast-NBC merger," 12 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'keelhaul.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of keelhaul

1666, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for keelhaul

Dutch kielhalen, from kiel keel + halen to haul

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about keelhaul

Listen to Our Podcast about keelhaul

Statistics for keelhaul

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for keelhaul

The first known use of keelhaul was in 1666

See more words from the same year

More from Merriam-Webster on keelhaul

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with keelhaul

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for keelhaul

Comments on keelhaul

What made you want to look up keelhaul? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


food or victuals

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Farm Idioms Quiz

  • cow coming home
  • What does 'poke' refer to in the expression 'pig in a poke'?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!