keel over



Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Auguste écoutant la lecture de l’Enéide (Augustus Listening to the Reading of the Aeneid; c. 1814), from the collection of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels, Belgium. It depicts (from right to left) the Roman Emperor Augustus, his sister Octavia the Younger, and his wife Livia listening to Virgil reading Book VI of the Aeneid. According to Aelius Donatus’s biography of Virgil, when the poet read the lines about Octavia’s son Marcellus who had died unexpectedly, Octavia keeled over in a faint (sense 2).

The original nautical meaning (sense 1) refers to a vessel rolling to the extent that its keel (a large beam along the underside of the vessel’s hull from bow to stern) is visible.



keel over (third-person singular simple present keels over, present participle keeling over, simple past and past participle keeled over)

  1. (intransitive, nautical, also figuratively) Of a vessel: to roll so far on its side that it cannot recover; to capsize or turn turtle.
    • 1844 May, Peter von Geist, “A Piscatorial Eclogue”, in The Knickerbocker, or New-York Monthly Magazine, volume XXIII, number 5, New York, N.Y.: Published by John Allen, Nassau-Street, OCLC 1650862, page 462:
      What a tiny little schooner! But is it not bold to spread both sails? And see, now that we have come round to the wind, how the skiff keels over.
    • 1851 November 14, Herman Melville, “The Town-Ho’s Story. (As Told at the Golden Inn.)”, in Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, 1st American edition, New York, N.Y.: Harper & Brothers; London: Richard Bentley, OCLC 57395299, page 289:
      [H]is bandaged cry was, to beach him on the whale's topmost back. Nothing loath, his bowsman hauled him up and up, through a blinding foam that blent two whitenesses together; till of a sudden the boat struck as against a sunken ledge, and keeling over, spilled out the standing mate.
    • 1853 September, “A Cruise after and among the Cannibals”, in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, volume VII, number XL, New York, N.Y.: Harper & Brothers, publishers, 329 & 331 Pearl Street, Franklin Square, OCLC 924884025, page 473, column 1:
      The tributaries made their appearance from the house, advancing in a singular manner. They were all clothed in immense pieces of tappa looped about their persons. First one crawled on all fours for a few yards; then he keeled over, head over heels; then he brought up on his haunches, resting for a moment; after which he resumed the same procedure until he came within a few paces of "Old Snuffy."
    • 1978 October 5, Bill Simmons, “‘… A day of fear’”, in Arkansas Democrat, page 6D; reprinted in “Attachment I (to Main Report): Supplement to Arkansas Democrat: 13 September 1978 Flood”, in Feasibility Report and Environmental Impact Statement for Water Resource Development: Fourche Bayou Basin, Vicinity Little Rock, Arkansas, volume I (Main Report), Little Rock, Ark.: U.S. Army Engineer District, Little Rock, 1979, OCLC 825841681:
      At home, the water had deepened; it tumbled like rapids across the yard; it encroached upon the house; it shoved one-foot stones aside and carved grooves through the gravel driveway; the chain link fence was keeling over under the pressure surging through it.
  2. (intransitive, idiomatic) To collapse in a faint; to black out, to swoon.
    We should all go inside before somebody keels over from the heat.
    • 1854 June, “Putting Him Through”, in Yankee Notions, volume III, number 6, Published by T. W. Strong, engraver and printer, 98 Nassau Street, N.Y., OCLC 861995259, page 182:
      A huge double-fisted fellow hits Marshall a biff on the ear; the General keels over and catches in his fall another gentleman, who hits a fourth, and the party clinging, all fall through a window, and drop through a partly closed cellar-door.
    • 1876, Mark Twain [pseudonym; Samuel Langhorne Clemens], chapter XVI, in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Hartford, Conn.: The American Publishing Company, OCLC 1000326417, page 138:
      "I bleeve I could smoke this pipe all day," said Joe. "I don't feel sick." / "Neither do I," said Tom. "I could smoke it all day. But I bet you Jeff Thatcher couldn't." / "Jeff Thatcher! Why he'd keel over just with two draws. Just let him try it once. He'd see!"
  3. (intransitive, idiomatic) To die.
    • 1834, David Crockett, chapter XIII, in A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, of the State of Tennessee. Written by Himself, Philadelphia, Pa.: E[dward] L[awrence] Carey & A[braham] Hart; Boston, Mass.: Allen & Ticknor, OCLC 950908207, page 197:
      The enemy had planted a piece of ordinance within gun-shot of the fort during the night, and the first thing in the morning they commenced a brisk cannonade, point-blank, against the spot where I was snoring. I turned out pretty smart, and mounted the rampart. The gun was charged again, a fellow stepped forth to touch her off, but before he could apply the match I let him have it, and he keeled over. A second stepped up, snatched the match from the hand of the dying man, but Thimblerig, who had followed me, handed me his rifle, and the next instant the Mexican was stretched on the earth beside the first.
    • 1876, James J. Brooks, “The Good Ship ‘Netherland’”, in The Adventures of a United States Detective. A Series of Interesting Sketches Illustrating the Operations of the Whisky Ring in Their Evasions of the Law and Its Penalties, Philadelphia, Pa.: S. T. Soulder & Company, 721 Sansom Street, OCLC 7241187, page 94:
      A staunch old ship she was too, [] There was no hurry in her building. Mynheer Von Dert hewed the logs for her keel, and slept with his fathers. His son Petrus prepared the keelson, then keeled over, and was laid beside his venerable sire.
    • 2017 July 16, Brandon Nowalk, “Chickens and Dragons Come Home to Roost on Game of Thrones (Newbies)”, in The A.V. Club[1], archived from the original on 4 December 2017:
      Plucky old Walder Frey gathers his family for a feast and toasts to their massacre of the Stark family. He compliments their bravery in stabbing a pregnant woman and her fetus to death. As every last Frey man swigs their special wine, Walder hypes the cunning it took to invite guests into your home and ambush them. But then things take a turn, the men starting to keel over as Walder seems to admonish them for leaving certain threads hanging. At last the room is empty but for Arya Stark, holding Walder Frey's face, and a couple girls she leaves alive to spread the legend. "Winter came for House Frey."