from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • intransitive verb To lurch or swerve while in motion.
  • intransitive verb To move forward rapidly, especially with a swaying motion or with minimal control; career.
  • intransitive verb To lean to one side, as a ship sailing in the wind.
  • intransitive verb To turn a ship on its side for cleaning, caulking, or repairing.
  • intransitive verb To cause (a ship) to lean to one side; tilt.
  • intransitive verb To lean (a ship) on one side for cleaning, caulking, or repairing.
  • intransitive verb To clean, caulk, or repair (a ship in this position).
  • noun The act or process of careening a ship.
  • noun The position of a careened ship.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • Nautical, to cause (a ship) to lie over on one side for the purpose of examining, or of calking, repairing, cleansing, paying with pitch, or breaming the other side.
  • To lean to one side, as a ship under a press of sail.
  • noun A slanting position in which a ship is placed, that the keel may be repaired; the place where this is done.
  • noun The submerged figure or body which is cut off from a floating vessel by the plane of the surface of the water; the submerged portion of a floating vessel: a figure bounded by the plane of the surface of the water and the wetted surface of a floating body.
  • noun A careening or lurching motion or movement; a lurch.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • transitive verb (Naut.) To cause (a vessel) to lean over so that she floats on one side, leaving the other side out of water and accessible for repairs below the water line; to case to be off the keel.
  • intransitive verb To incline to one side, or lie over, as a ship when sailing on a wind; to be off the keel.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • verb nautical To heave a ship down on one side so as to expose the other, in order to clean it of barnacles and weed, or to repair it below the water line.
  • verb nautical To tilt on one side.
  • verb To lurch or sway violently from side to side.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • verb move sideways or in an unsteady way
  • noun pitching dangerously to one side
  • verb walk as if unable to control one's movements


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[From French (en) carène, (on) the keel, from Old French carene, from Old Italian carena, from Latin carīna; see kar- in Indo-European roots.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Late 16th century, from French carene (keel), from Italian (Genoese) carena, from Latin carina (keel of a ship).


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  • "The word careen, 'to lurch or swerve while in motion,' illustrates a phenomenon that is frequently encountered when tracing the history of language: the development of a word can be influenced by other words of similar sound and related meaning, and similar words can exert mutual influence on each other.

    "Careen was originally a nautical term meaning 'to lean a ship on its side for cleaning, caulking, or repairing.' The word comes from the French phrase en carène, meaning 'on the keel.' Carène is descended from the Latin word carina, 'keel, nutshell.' From the original sense relating to ships at rest, careen also came to be used of ships leaning to one side when sailing in the wind. In more recent times, the word careen has developed another sense, 'to rush headlong,' as in the sentence 'The truck went careening into the intersection,' and in other expressions in which the emphasis is on forward, rather than sideways, motion. In this sense the word careen has probably been influenced by the word career, 'to move or run at high speed.' Not only do the two verbs sound similar, but automobiles generally careen (that is, lurch or tip over) only when driven at high speed--in other words, when they are careering. Since the two verbs can be used in similar circumstances, the meaning of careen was probably extended to include that of career. This newer use of careen began to appear only in the 1920s. Many authorities on English usage, in fact, still recommend keeping careen, 'to lurch to the side,' distinct from career, 'to rush headlong forward.'"

    --More Word Histories and Mysteries, from Aardvark to Zombie, from the editors of American Heritage (r) Dictionaries, 2006.

    December 31, 2007

  • Fascinating. I've often wondered why two such similar words ended up with the same (or a similar) definition.

    January 1, 2008

  • "The spearfishing skill of the Miskitos was so important to the English that when the time came to careen the ship, they brought their vessels to places on the coast where their strikers could hunt the prey that provided the most flesh."

    Tim Severin, In Search of Robinson Crusoe (2003)

    "Here the privateersmen dug two or three wells to supply them while they careened ships in an anchorage on the northern side."


    October 30, 2015