cap·​stan | \ ˈkap-stən How to pronounce capstan (audio) , -ˌstan\

Definition of capstan

1 : a machine for moving or raising heavy weights that consists of a vertical drum which can be rotated and around which cable is turned
2 : a rotating shaft that drives tape at a constant speed in a recorder

Examples of capstan in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

Such is the ship’s condition that some of her rigging is still in place, while her wooden capstan and bilge pump are also visible. Fox News, "Stunningly well preserved 500-year-old Columbus-era shipwreck revealed: 'It’s almost like it sank yesterday'," 23 July 2019 Various rare items were also visible aboard the ancient wreck, including a wooden bilge pump and a capstan, a wide cylinder used for winding up lengths of rope. William J. Broad, New York Times, "A Shipwreck, 500 Years Old, Appears on the Baltic Seabed," 22 July 2019 Cranes, windlasses and capstans (ancient water-raising devices based on a kind of swinging, see-saw design) may well have inspired the use of counterweights in early elevators and hoists. Adrienne Bernhard, Smithsonian, "Elevators Are Going Green," 27 Apr. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'capstan.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of capstan

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for capstan

Middle English, probably from Middle French cabestant

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Statistics for capstan

Last Updated

6 Aug 2019

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Time Traveler for capstan

The first known use of capstan was in the 14th century

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English Language Learners Definition of capstan

: a machine that turns so that rope or a cable can wind around it and move or lift heavy weights (such as a ship's anchor)


cap·​stan | \ ˈkap-stən How to pronounce capstan (audio) \

Kids Definition of capstan

: a device that consists of a drum to which a rope is fastened and that is used especially on ships for raising the anchor

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More from Merriam-Webster on capstan

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with capstan

Spanish Central: Translation of capstan

Nglish: Translation of capstan for Spanish Speakers Encyclopedia article about capstan

Comments on capstan

What made you want to look up capstan? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


one from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

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