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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
The View hosts specifically balked at House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), calling them pathetic for their support of the impeachment inquiry. Heather Hamilton, Washington Examiner, 13 Sep. 2023 The deal contemplates the possibility that regulators may balk at the merger plan and demand more store divestitures. oregonlive, 8 Sep. 2023 The world’s most accomplished designers would balk. Lauren Puckett-Pope, ELLE, 8 Sep. 2023 The Power to Penetrate Steel Although troops balked at the weight of the M2 heavy machine gun and the M2 .50-caliber round early on, the weapon was unlike anything else in the U.S. arsenal. Popular Mechanics, 31 Aug. 2023 The ask also comes as some Republicans have balked at the administration's request for additional funding to support Ukraine as part of an emergency package that also includes disaster relief money. Akayla Gardner Bloomberg News (tns), Arkansas Online, 27 Aug. 2023 When Quintana balked at the president’s efforts to alter it, she was asked to resign, according to a government official. Oscar Lopez, Washington Post, 26 Aug. 2023 But this would still mean allowing uranium enrichment to take place inside Saudi Arabia—something Washington has previously balked at and should not allow because of proliferation concerns and Riyadh’s unpredictability. Daniel C. Kurtzer, Foreign Affairs, 21 Aug. 2023 Disney has balked, saying Charter is making unrealistic demands for terms that no other multi-channel video distributor has received. Meg James, Los Angeles Times, 6 Sep. 2023
Arkansas loaded the bases again in the fourth and pushed the lead to 3-0 on a balk by Naturals reliever Dante Biasi. Paul Boyd, Arkansas Online, 17 Sep. 2023 The game-winning run scored when closer Gregory Santos was called for a balk with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning. Lamond Pope, Chicago Tribune, 5 Sep. 2023 While Canseco and Rodriguez's career exploits were tied to performance-enhancing drug use, Acuña had a different benefit — radical rules changes that created larger bases and confined pitchers to two pickoff attempts; an unsuccessful third attempt results in a balk. Gabe Lacques, USA TODAY, 1 Sep. 2023 Unlike college and professional baseball, a balk in high school is an automatic dead ball. Lia Assimakopoulos, Dallas News, 14 May 2023 Two others scored on balks, only the second time in franchise history the Rangers had multiple run-scoring balks in a game. Evan Grant, Dallas News, 24 May 2023 The balk scored a run and tied the game, 1-1, and then everything fell apart for the Tigers. Evan Petzold, Detroit Free Press, 14 May 2023 The Pirates scored two runs on him in the second inning, but the difference was a balk that allowed two runners to advance into scoring position. Charlie Goldsmith, The Enquirer, 22 Apr. 2023 One run came in when Joe Kelly was called for a balk. Lamond Pope, Chicago Tribune, 1 July 2023 See More

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 1 Oct. 2023.

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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