reel off: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘reel off’ mean?

The idiom "reel off" means to recite or say something quickly, easily, and without much thought or effort.

Idiom Explorer

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Reel off is an idiom that has several meanings and uses. One common meaning of the idiom is to say or recite something quickly and easily. It's like the related idiom "rhyme off." When you reel off information, you are able to recite it fluently and effortlessly. It's like reciting a list, a speech, or any kind of information without hesitation or difficulty. For example, one might say, "She reeled off a list of all the countries she's visited."

Another meaning of reel off is to describe the action of rapidly and continuously unwinding or unreeling something. It's like the related idiom "rattle off." When you reel off something, you are unwinding or unfolding it swiftly. This can be used literally or metaphorically. For instance, one might say, "He reeled off the film from the camera to develop it."

He recited the list with rapid, fluent speech.

The word reel originally comes from the Old English word hrēol, which meant "a rotating device for winding something." This evolved into different meanings related to winding and unwinding, both literally and metaphorically. So when you reel off information, it's like smoothly unwinding it from your mind. The idiom reel off combines the idea of swiftly unwinding or reciting something with the notion of separation or movement away. It's also similar to the related idiom "roll off the tongue."

The usage of reel off can be traced back to at least the early 19th century. In literature and newspapers from this period, the idiom is employed in various contexts. This indicates that it was already well-established by that time. Over the years, reel off has continued to be used in both spoken and written English, maintaining its core meanings and versatility.

When using reel off in speech or writing, it is important to consider the context and purpose. The idiom is commonly used to convey a sense of fluency, ease, and rapidity. It can be employed to describe someone's ability to effortlessly provide information, recall details, or complete tasks. It's like effortlessly rattling off facts or smoothly rolling words off the tongue. Additionally, reel off can also be used to express a rapid and continuous action of unwinding or unfolding something.

As with many idioms, reel off can be used figuratively and metaphorically, allowing for creative and imaginative applications. It's like a versatile tool in the writer's toolbox. It is crucial to recognize the specific connotations and nuances associated with this idiom in different contexts. Overall, reel off is a versatile and expressive idiom that adds color and depth to the English language.

Example usage

Examples of how the idiom reel off can be used in a sentence:

  1. She can reel off the capitals of all 50 states in alphabetical order.
  2. The comedian had the audience laughing uncontrollably as he reeled off one funny joke after another.
  3. He effortlessly reels off the names and statistics of famous football players from memory.

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