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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 ballasting
Historical Examples
  • In the permanent way and ballasting, the reduction will be about one-half.

  • Meanwhile, others had been ballasting the boat with boulders from the beach.

    A Kut Prisoner

    H. C. W. Bishop
  • This is called a "ballasting resistance" and is usually an iron wire in a glass bulb containing hydrogen.

    Artificial Light M. Luckiesh
  • I mean all he wants is ballasting with a little of that business spirit which we call American push.

    The Silver Poppy Arthur Stringer
  • Here is a specimen that I got right here where they are ballasting the road.

    The Chautauquan, Vol. III, January 1883 The Chautauquan Literary and Scientific Circle
  • A large number of men were shoveling the gravel onto flat cars, to be hauled on the line of the railroad for ballasting the track.

    The White Rose of Memphis William C. Falkner
  • One reason for deferring the masonry work as well as the ballasting was the inability to handle the necessary supplies.

  • He has tacked that attachment notice onto a poor innocent old car filled with ballasting cinders.

    Bound to Succeed Allen Chapman
  • Very imperfect grading and ballasting was done in the hasty building of this road.

  • We found them at the landing, ballasting the boat with stones and getting on their oil-skins.

    Our Journey to the Hebrides

    Joseph Pennell and Elizabeth Robins Pennell
British Dictionary definitions for ballasting


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 ballasting



"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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