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ˈbȯk How to pronounce balk (audio)
 sometimes  ˈbȯlk
balked; balking; balks

intransitive verb

: to refuse abruptly
used with at
Congress balked at putting up the moneyThomas Fleming
: to stop short and refuse to proceed
The horse balked at the jump and threw the rider.
sports : to commit a balk (see balk entry 2 sense 1)

transitive verb

: to check or stop by or as if by an obstacle : block
… had neither been balked nor been frightened …Francis Hackett
archaic : to pass over or by
… such an age as ours balks no expense …William Cowper
balker noun


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baseball : an occurrence in which a pitcher stops suddenly or makes an illegal movement after starting to throw a pitch
The pitcher was charged with a balk.
sports : failure of a competitor to complete a motion (such as a jump, vault, or dive)
: the space behind the balkline on a billiard table
: any of the outside divisions made by the balklines
: a ridge of land left unplowed as a dividing line or through carelessness
Choose the Right Synonym for balk

frustrate, thwart, foil, baffle, balk mean to check or defeat another's plan or block achievement of a goal.

frustrate implies making vain or ineffectual all efforts however vigorous or persistent.

frustrated attempts at government reform

thwart suggests frustration or checking by crossing or opposing.

the army thwarted his attempt at a coup

foil implies checking or defeating so as to discourage further effort.

foiled by her parents, he stopped trying to see her

baffle implies frustration by confusing or puzzling.

baffled by the maze of rules and regulations

balk suggests the interposing of obstacles or hindrances.

officials felt that legal restrictions had balked their efforts to control crime

Examples of balk in a Sentence

Verb The horse balked and would not jump the fence. The runner on third base tried to make the pitcher balk. Noun the constant interruptions proved to be a balk to the flow of conversation
Recent Examples on the Web
Niger has balked at approving some of those clearances in recent months, American officials said. Eric Schmitt, New York Times, 19 May 2024 Popular on Variety Even with the Twitter name scrubbed from the web, many users continue to balk at calling the site X. Todd Spangler, Variety, 17 May 2024 See all Example Sentences for balk 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'balk.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



Middle English balkyn "to leave an unplowed ridge between furrows, omit, neglect," verbal derivative of balk, balke "strip of unplowed land between fields" — more at balk entry 2


Middle English balk, balke, bauke "squared beam of wood, beam of a balance from which pans hang, strip of unplowed land between fields, ridge between furrows left unplowed," going back to Old English balca "strip of unplowed land between fields, ridge between furrows left unplowed," going back to Germanic *balkōn (masculine n-stem) "beam," (whence also Old Frisian balka "beam," Old Saxon balko, Old High German balko, balcho "beam, winepress, gangway on a ship"; with differing ablaut and/or inflection Old English bolca "deck, gangway on a ship," Old High German bolkun [plural] "passageway on a ship," Old Icelandic bǫlkr, balkr "partition, section," bjalki "beam"), going back to dialectal Indo-European *bholǵ- or *bholǵh-, whence also regional Russian bólozno "thick board," Slovene blazína "load-bearing beam in a roof or threshing floor," Lithuanian balžíena "flexible crosspiece for securing the back support on a sled"

Note: G. Kroonen prefers *bholǵh- to *bholǵ- because a plain voiced stop should have triggered lengthening and acute accent in Balto-Slavic ("Winter's Law"). Aspirated *bholǵh-, however, would result in a voiced rather than voiceless stop in Germanic, a problem that Kroonen circumvents by assuming that -k- in *balkan- reflects a voiceless geminate stop produced by assimilation of a voiced stop and a following *n ("Kluge's Law")—hence an original genitive form *bhl̥ǵh-n-ós would result in *bulkkaz. (See Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic [Leiden, 2013] s.v. *belkan- and The Proto-Germanic N-Stems [Amsterdam/New York, 2011], pp. 148-49.) — A variety of other formations have been assigned to this Indo-European base: 1) Latin sufflāmen "bar used for braking wheeled vehicles," allegedly from *sub-flăg-men, in the notation of A.L. Lloyd et al., Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Althochdeutschen (vol. 1, p. 442), *-bhlьg-mn̥ or *-bhlьg-smn̥. But a deverbal derivation is suggested by the prefix, and -men derivatives in Latin are almost without exception formed from verbs. 2) Greek phalang-, phálanx "log, roller placed under loads or a ship, spar, row, rank, body of troops drawn up in ranks" (see phalanx). Earlier literature uniformly assigns this word to *bhl̥ǵ- "beam," with the addition of a laryngeal that drops elsewhere and a "secondary" nasal consonant—hence *bhol-ə2-g- in Chantraine's notation. R. Beekes, however, regards all -ang-/-ing-/-yng- derivatives, most etymologically opaque, as of pre-Greek substratal origin (Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2010); see also note at pharynx.

First Known Use


15th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 2


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 5

Time Traveler
The first known use of balk was before the 12th century

Dictionary Entries Near balk

Cite this Entry

“Balk.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 noun
: something that prevents movement or action
: an illegal motion of a baseball pitcher while in position to pitch with a runner on base


2 of 2 verb
: to check or stop by or as if by something in the way : block
: to stop and refuse to go
the horse balked
: to make a balk in baseball
balker noun

More from Merriam-Webster on balk

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