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[bal-uh st] /ˈbæl əst/
Nautical. any heavy material carried temporarily or permanently in a vessel to provide desired draft and stability.
Aeronautics. something heavy, as bags of sand, placed in the car of a balloon for control of altitude and, less often, of attitude, or placed in an aircraft to control the position of the center of gravity.
anything that gives mental, moral, or political stability or steadiness:
the ballast of a steady income.
gravel, broken stone, slag, etc., placed between and under the ties of a railroad to give stability, provide drainage, and distribute loads.
  1. Also called ballast resistor. a device, often a resistor, that maintains the current in a circuit at a constant value by varying its resistance in order to counteract changes in voltage.
  2. a device that maintains the current through a fluorescent or mercury lamp at the desired constant value, sometimes also providing the necessary starting voltage and current.
verb (used with object)
to furnish with ballast:
to ballast a ship.
to give steadiness to; keep steady:
parental responsibilities that ballast a person.
in ballast, Nautical. carrying only ballast; carrying no cargo.
Origin of ballast
1450-1500; < Middle Low German, perhaps ultimately < Scandinavian; compare Old Danish, Old Swedish barlast, equivalent to bar bare1 + last load; see last4
Related forms
ballaster, noun
[buh-las-tik] /bəˈlæs tɪk/ (Show IPA),
overballast, verb (used with object)
subballast, noun
underballast, verb (used with object) Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for ballast
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • The vessel was in ballast, and had brought money to make her purchases with.

    Ned Myers James Fenimore Cooper
  • You are in the same boat, and we must divide the ballast a little more equally.'

    Barnaby Rudge Charles Dickens
  • Four or five of these busts had been struck into the launch as ballast.

    Homeward Bound James Fenimore Cooper
  • It is a tempest of fancies, and the only ballast I know is a respect to the present hour.

    Essays, Second Series Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Will you take me down to the Point when you get the ballast?

    Little By Little William Taylor Adams
  • A gran' thing in a vessel, a bit o' ballast—like religion in a body.

    Sonnie-Boy's People James B. Connolly
  • The great fault in Zinzendorf's character was lack of ballast.

  • They got into the car, and the bags of ballast were tossed overboard.

    Frank Merriwell's Bravery Burt L. Standish
  • It is valuable as a building stone and as ballast for roadbeds and foundations.

British Dictionary definitions for ballast


any dense heavy material, such as lead or iron pigs, used to stabilize a vessel, esp one that is not carrying cargo
crushed rock, broken stone, etc, used for the foundation of a road or railway track
coarse aggregate of sandy gravel, used in making concrete
anything that provides stability or weight
(electronics) a device for maintaining the current in a circuit
verb (transitive)
to give stability or weight to
Word Origin
C16: probably from Low German; related to Old Danish, Old Swedish barlast, literally: bare load (without commercial value), from bar bare, mere + last load, burden
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for ballast

"heavy material used to steady a ship," 1520s, from Middle English bar "bare" (see bare; in this case "mere") + last "a load, burden," or borrowed from identical terms in North Sea Germanic and Scandinavian (cf. Old Danish barlast, 14c.). "Mere" because not carried for commercial purposes. Dutch balg-last "ballast," literally "belly-load," is a folk-etymology corruption.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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