English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

After reading this sentence:

A near-decade of two simultaneous foreign wars, topped off by the most brutal recession in two generations, has left federal and state budgets reeling.

I was left wondering about the meaning that was intended to be given by "reeling" in the sentence. From the definitions in Google, I don't know which one to choose (1 and 2 don't seem to apply):

  1. Lose one's balance and stagger or lurch violently

  2. Feel very giddy, disoriented, or bewildered, typically as a result of an unexpected setback

  3. Walk in a staggering or lurching manner, esp. while drunk

share|improve this question

closed as general reference by Robusto, tchrist, FumbleFingers, Mitch, Matt E. Эллен Aug 16 '12 at 10:36

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Look behind Door #2. – Robusto Aug 13 '12 at 15:59
There's not much difference among those. They all refer to being off balance and at risk of falling over. For a budget it's metaphorical. Nothing like the idea of reeling in a fish or some of the other meanings. – Kate Gregory Aug 13 '12 at 16:03
Yeah, I think you're looking too closely at a metaphor. The budgets are messed up, that's all it meant. – Malvolio Aug 13 '12 at 17:48
It's a metaphor. You're not literally reeling, losing your physical balance, but losing your mental balance. – Mitch Aug 13 '12 at 20:48
Metaphors that personify inanimate objects are quite bad to read. It's just another way of unnecessarily exagerating, without providing anything resembling fact. It's not beautiful, like shakespeare's flowery language, it's plain ugly. Typical of news style reporting. Throw several semi-witty crunched phrases together to form a sentence. What do you get?..garbage. – Chris Aug 13 '12 at 22:58
up vote 5 down vote accepted

All of those give a good sense of the meaning. If you imagine a runner going towards a goal, who hits a barrier he didn't see, he'd be knocked back and stagger around a little.

At that point he'd be said to be reeling from the setback, instead of heading towards his goal.

share|improve this answer
This is an example of the TIME is MOTION Metaphor Theme. So terms about walking, running, travelling, speeding, rising, falling, and reeling from side to side are all fair game. – John Lawler Aug 13 '12 at 17:09

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.