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

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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

British spelunkers started surveying the region in 1990 and discovered the largest known cave passage in the world, Son Doong, in 2009. Patrick Scott, WSJ, "A Blow-Your-Mind Adventure in Vietnam’s Caves," 13 Nov. 2018 From the entrance, a path leads about two miles into the cave complex before splitting into two directions, said Vernon Unsworth, a British spelunker who lives in Chiang Rai and has been exploring Tham Luang for more than six years. New York Times, "As Search for Thai Boys Lost in Cave Hits Day 5, a Nation Holds Its Breath," 27 June 2018 Vernon Unsworth, a British insurance consultant and hobbyist spelunker, has made a obsession of the Tham Luang cave system. Shibani Mahtani, Washington Post, "‘Time is running out’: Inside the treacherous rescue of boys trapped in a Thai cave," 13 July 2018 They were joined by scores of spelunkers who flocked to Mae Sai within days of the news that the soccer team was trapped by floods. Phred Dvorak, WSJ, "All 12 Boys and Their Soccer Coach Rescued From Thai Cave," 10 July 2018 The appeal of discovering new, hidden worlds is a big part of why spelunkers are drawn to cave exploring. Jake Maxwell Watts, WSJ, "What Lies Beneath? Vague Mapping Complicates Thai Cave Rescue," 8 July 2018 Here are a few tales of cave rescues that worked: A cry for help, in a box In 1983, eight amateur spelunkers were trapped in a Kentucky cave after a rainstorm caused a stream to rise, sealing their only escape route. Mike Ives, New York Times, "5 Cave Rescues That Worked: Thailand Can Find Hope in Past Success," 3 July 2018 But fear not, urban spelunkers and cavern connoisseurs: Bagley said the city hopes to offer more tours, perhaps in October, to commemorate Massachusetts Archaeology Month. Michael Levenson, BostonGlobe.com, "Photos of the abandoned subway tunnel beneath City Hall," 21 May 2018 Teams can either tackle the courses physically, or design a simulated spelunker. Matt Simon, WIRED, "Darpa's Next Challenge? A Grueling Underground Journey," 15 May 2018

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.

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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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Time Traveler for spelunker

The first known use of spelunker was in 1942

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English Language Learners Definition of spelunker

US : a person who explores and studies caves as a hobby

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to move with exaggerated bouncy motions

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