1. a cylinder, frame, or other device that turns on an axis and is used to wind up or pay out something.
  2. a rotatory device attached to a fishing rod at the butt, for winding up or letting out the line.
  3. Photography.
    1. a spool on which film, especially motion-picture film, is wound.
    2. a roll of motion-picture film.
    3. a holder for roll film in a developing tank.
  4. a quantity of something wound on a reel.
  5. Chiefly British. a spool of sewing thread; a roller or bobbin of sewing thread.

verb (used with object)

  1. to wind on a reel, as thread, yarn, etc.
  2. to unwind (silk filaments) from a cocoon.
  3. to pull or draw by winding a line on a reel: to reel a fish in.

Verb Phrases

  1. reel off, to say, write, or produce quickly and easily: The old sailor reeled off one story after another.
  1. off the reel,
    1. without pause; continuously.
    2. without delay or hesitation; immediately.

    Also right off the reel.

verb (used without object)

  1. to sway or rock under a blow, shock, etc.: The boxer reeled and fell.
  2. to waver or fall back: The troops reeled and then ran.
  3. to sway about in standing or walking, as from dizziness, intoxication, etc.; stagger.
  4. to turn round and round; whirl.
  5. to have a sensation of whirling: His brain reeled.

verb (used with object)

  1. to cause to reel.


  1. an act of reeling; a reeling or staggering movement.


  1. any of various cylindrical objects or frames that turn on an axis and onto which film, magnetic tape, paper tape, wire, thread, etc, may be woundUS equivalent: spool
  2. angling a device for winding, casting, etc, consisting of a revolving spool with a handle, attached to a fishing rod
  3. a roll of celluloid exhibiting a sequence of photographs to be projected

verb (tr)

  1. to wind (cotton, thread, etc) onto a reel
  2. (foll by in, out etc) to wind or draw with a reelto reel in a fish

verb (mainly intr)

  1. to sway, esp under the shock of a blow or through dizziness or drunkenness
  2. to whirl about or have the feeling of whirling abouthis brain reeled


  1. a staggering or swaying motion or sensation


  1. any of various lively Scottish dances, such as the eightsome reel and foursome reel for a fixed number of couples who combine in square and circular formations
  2. a piece of music having eight quavers to the bar composed for or in the rhythm of this dance

“to wind on a reel,” late 14c., from reel (n.1). Verbal phrase reel off “recite without pause or effort” is from 1837. Fishing sense is from 1849. Related: Reeled; reeling.


“frame turning on an axis,” especially one on which thread is wound, late Old English hreol “reel for winding thread,” from Proto-Germanic *hrehulaz; probably related to hrægel “garment,” and Old Norse hræll “spindle,” from PIE *krek- “to weave, beat” (cf. Greek krokus “nap of cloth”).

Specifically of the fishing rod attachment from 1726; of a film projector apparatus from 1896. Reel-to-reel type of tape deck is attested from 1958.


“lively Highland dance,” 1580s, probably a special use of reel (n.1), which had a secondary sense of “a whirl, whirling movement” (1570s) or from reel (v.1). Applied to the music for such a dance from 1590s.


“to whirl around,” late 14c., also “sway, swing, rock, become unsteady” (late 14c.), “stagger as a result of a blow, etc.” (c.1400), probably from reel (n.1), on notion of “spinning.” Of the mind, from 1796. Related: Reeled; reeling.

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