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

transitive verb

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

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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 And other than a recession, which generally keelhauls buyback plans, don’t expect companies to ease off their repurchases. Larry Light, Fortune, 20 Aug. 2019 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,, 12 June 2018

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

Word History


Dutch kielhalen, from kiel keel + halen to haul

First Known Use

1666, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of keelhaul was in 1666


Dictionary Entries Near keelhaul

Cite this Entry

“Keelhaul.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition


keel·​haul -ˌhȯl How to pronounce keelhaul (audio)
: to haul under the keel of a ship as punishment or torture
: to scold severely
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