spe·​lunk·​er spi-ˈləŋ-kər How to pronounce spelunker (audio)
: 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 Emotional intelligence has turned her into a spelunker. Jesse Green, New York Times, 21 Sep. 2023 Mark Dickey, the 40-year-old American spelunker who fell ill while exploring a cave in Turkey last week, is set to start a slow ascent Friday, with the help of an international team of more than 200 rescuers. Andrew Jeong, Washington Post, 8 Sep. 2023 In 2014, more than 700 specialists rescued German spelunker Johann Westhauser, who was trapped for 12 days in one of Europe's deepest cave systems. Meredith Deliso, ABC News, 7 Sep. 2023 Come up with a name for a travel package for fellow solitude-seeking spelunkers. The Week Staff, The Week, 21 Apr. 2023 The cave, Es Càrritx, was discovered by spelunkers in 1995 and held the remains of more than 200 people who had been laid to rest over the course of six centuries, with the latest burial in roughly 800 B.C.E. Many were related across multiple generations. Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, 6 Apr. 2023 The Ozark region’s karst topography—a type of landscape shaped by the dissolution of limestone or other soluble rock—has produced a spelunker wonderland. Leeaundra Keany, Discover Magazine, 30 Aug. 2010 With help from fellow spelunker Gerry Keene, Haley helped rescue the dog by putting it in a duffel bag with her head sticking out. Mike Stunson The Charlotte Observer (tns), al, 14 Aug. 2022 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 See More

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

Word History


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'."

First Known Use

1942, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of spelunker was in 1942


Dictionary Entries Near spelunker

Cite this Entry

“Spelunker.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/spelunker. Accessed 8 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


spe·​lunk·​er spi-ˈləŋ-kər How to pronounce spelunker (audio)
: a person who explores or studies caves
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