Definition of shrapnel in English:



mass noun
  • 1Fragments of a bomb, shell, or other object thrown out by an explosion.

    ‘he was killed by flying shrapnel’
    as modifier ‘shrapnel wounds’
    • ‘The captain's colleagues received shrapnel wounds but their injuries are not thought to be life-threatening.’
    • ‘Most of the shells fired by artillery guns were high explosive shells which could throw shrapnel over a wide distance in the trenches.’
    • ‘She recoiled from the explosion and flying shrapnel.’
    • ‘Soft flesh is no match for mortar shells, rocket-propelled grenade fragments and shrapnel thrown out in all directions by roadside bombs.’
    • ‘Two Kastani fighters were slashed with shrapnel from the explosion, and the nearest Alliance vessels were physically displaced by the shock wave.’
    • ‘Then you work out the size of the bomb, the type of explosives, the attendant shrapnel, the amount of building damage and the amount of flying glass.’
    • ‘The energy overload feedback has electrocuted several that were not killed by shrapnel when the explosions occurred.’
    • ‘A second later, the building exploded, throwing bits of shrapnel everywhere and knocking the unprepared Chris off his feet.’
    • ‘First into battle was Joe, who ran a head-on-head, slightly damaging his shield power from the enemy's explosion throwing shrapnel into it.’
    • ‘With the gunfire, shell explosions, shrapnel flying around him, he couldn't think with all destruction going on around him.’
    • ‘Bombs not only throw off shrapnel themselves, they create lots of deadly flying debris, including flying glass from broken windows, that can kill and maim.’
    • ‘Even the captain himself worked on pressurized storage lockers around the perimeter of the hold had been damaged by shrapnel from the explosion.’
    • ‘Another mortar blast struck a tree looking down over the trenches, scattering fragments of shrapnel all down into the fortifications.’
    • ‘Detectives also found about 130 fragments of steel shrapnel lying around the blast scene.’
    • ‘Wooden fragments exploded into shrapnel all around him.’
    • ‘Those who escaped death from blast and shrapnel wounds were ordered outside, only to be mown down under a hail of bullets from automatic weapons.’
    • ‘The hospital also received 39 people who were wounded in the explosion, most by shrapnel.’
    • ‘Almost immediately, Smith was wounded a second time by fragments of shrapnel.’
    • ‘He returned home with shrapnel wounds and tales of fighting U.S. military might with a rifle.’
    • ‘A 20-year-old man in his house when it was bombed ‘took shrapnel in his leg,’ Campbell recounted.’
    1. 1.1historical A shell containing bullets or pieces of metal timed to burst short of impact.
      • ‘Hardly did I walk two or three steps than four or five shrapnels burst near me.’
      • ‘Shrapnel shell was unsuited to the disablement of aeroplanes.’
      • ‘A couple of shrapnels were sent after them to keep them on the run.’
      • ‘A belated shrapnel-shot shrieked and burst, and everything grew still.’
      • ‘Under them 18-pounder shrapnel, shedding sparks of burning fuses, tore screaming away east.’
      • ‘The battalion was shelled intermittently with high explosive and shrapnel.’
      • ‘The public has chosen to ignore the facts that shrapnel shell has become obsolete and that anti-aircraft guns fire high-explosive only’
      • ‘British cannon bombarded Nxele's men with shrapnel shell and ensured their rout.’
  • 2informal Small change.

    ‘little more than a few pounds and a handful of shrapnel’
    • ‘From the handful of shrapnel we were passed for trips to Yvonne's sweetie shop, through the insistence that backache and blisters were par for the course in summer jobs.’
    • ‘She looked at me oddly and I searched around and found twenty pence in shrapnel, which I swapped over.’
    • ‘For the exchange of a handful of shrapnel, grilled free-range chicken with an expert light aïoli, or with a zappy salsa verde, will shoot down these chutes.’
    • ‘Well, any reader wishing to help Jason escape the cold streets of penury and warm himself by the fire of solvency should begin rummaging for shrapnel in their pockets now.’
    coins, coinage, specie
    View synonyms


Early 19th century: named after General Henry Shrapnel (1761–1842), the British soldier who invented the shell; the sense ‘fragments of a bomb or shell’ originated during the First World War.