Keel Over – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Would you like to describe something that is leaning like the tower of Pisa, and might about to fall over or fail in a spectacular manner at any second from now? The term ‘keel over’ can be used to say what you mean. This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.


The saying ‘keel over’ is a type of adjective that is usually used to describe something that is falling over (or might be on the brink of doing so).

Something can ‘keel over’ in the future and present tense, but something can also have ‘keeled over’ when the expression is used in the past tense.

The term ‘keel over’ can also be used to say that something ‘is keeling over’ as the active present tense of the saying.

Usually the term ‘keel over’ is used in the literal sense to say that something is going to fall over, has fallen over or is about to fall over: sometimes, the term is used to humorously indicate the same, although it can also be used in a sense to say that someone might fall over – e.g. as a result of drunkenness or stupidity.

The expression can be used to identify a situation as an observer, but it can also be used as a means of self-reference.

Example Usage

“If you have one more drink at the bar tonight, then you’re almost certainly going to keel over by the time you get home.”

“The tower didn’t look too stable after the storm. It looked like the whole thing was going to keel over any second, or at the very least it was in danger of keeling over after everything that happened over the weekend.”

“Your mother is going to be so tired when she gets home tomorrow that she’s probably just going to walk in the door and keel over.”

“Don’t go and drink so much that any of you keel over after the party, you hear?”


The first use of the term ‘keel over’ is difficult to track down even according to most top online language resources, but the origin of the term can be reliably taken back to the 18th century where the term has its origins as a nautical saying for oceanfarers.

Seafarers would use the term ‘keel over’ to refer to ships that had their ‘keel’ – or midriff along the hull – laying sideways due to a wreck.

Shipwrecks, that is disasters at-sea, were referred to as having ‘keeled over’ from the 18th century forward.

Figurative use of the term – anything that is not related to seafaring – would emerge somewhat later, and become popular in the 19th century.

The term would later come to refer to anything that could be imbalanced, or (in somewhat humorous terms) anything that could fall over.

The term was listed on Urban Dictionary in 2007, where the term might have achieved further popularity thanks to the internet and social media.

Phrases Similar to Keel Over

  • Lean over
  • Fall over

Phrases Opposite to Keel Over

  • Stand still

What is the Correct Saying?

  • [to] keel over
  • keeling over
  • [going to] keel over
  • [has] keeled over

Ways People May Say Keel Over Incorrectly

The term ‘keel over’ can be used in the incorrect way by anyone who does not understand the meaning of the expression.

The term ‘keel over’ is rarely used to refer to shipwrecks in modern times, but is used figuratively to refer to anything that has (or might) fall over sideways.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Keel Over

The correct way to use the term ‘keel over’ is to refer to things that have fallen over, that might fall over soon or that have already fallen over.

Something can ‘keel over’, have ‘keeled over’ or be going to ‘keel over’ in the future tense.

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