Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.
February 26th, 2016
Episode 461 of 797 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 26, 2016 is: keelhaul \KEEL-hawl\ verb 1 : to haul under the keel of a ship as punishment or torture 2 : to rebuke severely Examples: Several key employees were keelhauled for an error that cost the company millions of dollars. "Managers have been vilified, criticized and all butkeelhauled for stocking teams with their own players in the past—or leaving a qualified pick off the team." — Tom Gage, The Detroit News, 2 July 2007 Did you know? 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.