spe·​lunk·​er | \ spi-ˈləŋ-kər How to pronounce spelunker (audio) , ˈspē-ˌləŋ- \

Definition of spelunker

: one who makes a hobby of exploring and studying caves

Did you know?

Spelunker sounds like the noise a pebble makes when you drop it down a deep hole and into dark, hidden water far below. But there's nothing dark or obscure about the etymology of the term. We borrowed "spelunker" from Latin spelunca, which in turn derives from Greek spelynx. When you get to the bottom of things, you find that both the Latin and Greek words mean "cave." Although "spelunker" might sound neat, be careful: some cave-exploring enthusiasts prefer the term "caver."

Examples of spelunker in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web After acting as the scanner-in-chief for the company that invented the eFit, Borodin is now the lead ear spelunker for NextSense, which was born at Google and spun out of Alphabet’s X division. Steven Levy, Wired, 14 Apr. 2022 Three days later, Vernon Unsworth, a British spelunker on site outside the cave, persuaded government officials that if the boys were to be saved, consummate cave divers would be needed. Howard Schneider, WSJ, 5 Jan. 2022 Noted software spelunker Jane Manchun Wong found bits in Facebook’s Android app to allow hidden like counts. Adam Lashinsky, Fortune, 3 Sep. 2019 In 1968 a group of amateur spelunkers realized that falling rocks many centuries before had sealed an opening of a cave. Chiara Goia, National Geographic, 14 Dec. 2019 Deep in the bowels of a cave system on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, in a dim chamber accessible only to the most intrepid of spelunkers, lies a red-tinted painting depicting what appears to be a vivid hunt or ritual. Katherine J. Wu, Smithsonian, 12 Dec. 2019 The caves that comprise Kartchner Caverns State Park were discovered by spelunkers Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts in 1974. Weldon B. Johnson, azcentral, 13 Nov. 2019 An amnesiac spelunker joins a rescue team to explore underground caves where bloodthirsty creatures dwell. Los Angeles Times, 4 Oct. 2019 In another rescue operation in the Tatra Mountains, TOPR emergency workers have been searching for two spelunkers who went missing in a cave on Saturday after being trapped by rising water. Washington Post, 23 Aug. 2019 See More

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

First Known Use of spelunker

1942, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for spelunker

Latin spēlunca "cave" (borrowed from Greek spēlynk-, stem of spêlynx "cave") + -er entry 2 — more at speleology

Note: Word popularized, if not coined, by the author and outdoorsman Clair Willard Perry ("Clay Perry," 1887-1961), perhaps earliest in Underground New England (Brattleboro, VT: Stephen Daye Press, 1939), p. 219: "There is an informal caveman's club in New England, a group of men and boys who for several years have been making a more or less systematic study of the caves and old mines of the country, extending their research throughout eastern New York state as well. They call themselves 'spelunkers,' taking the name from the snappy Latin title for a cave, 'spelunka,' and from the high-sounding British caveman's club which is 'British Speleological Association'."

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The first known use of spelunker was in 1942

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Last Updated

27 Apr 2022

Cite this Entry

“Spelunker.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/spelunker. Accessed 26 May. 2022.

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