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verb (used without object)
  1. to thrive by feeding; grow fat.
  2. to feed gluttonously or greedily; glut oneself.
  3. to thrive, prosper, or live in luxury, especially at the expense of others: robber barons who battened on the poor.
verb (used with object)
  1. to cause to thrive by or as if by feeding; fatten.

Origin of batten1

1585–95; apparently < Old Norse batna to improve; cognate with Gothic gabatnan (bati change for the better + -na infinitive suffix). Compare Old English bet, Gothic batis, Old High German baz better


  1. a small board or strip of wood used for various building purposes, as to cover joints between boards, reinforce certain doors, or supply a foundation for lathing.
  2. a transverse iron or steel strip supporting the flooring strips of a metal fire escape.
  3. Nautical.
    1. a thin strip of wood inserted in a sail to keep it flat.
    2. a thin, flat length of wood or metal used for various purposes, as to hold the tarpaulin covering a hatch in place.
  4. Shipbuilding. a flexible strip of wood used for fairing the lines of a hull on the floor of a mold loft.
  5. Theater.
    1. Also called pipe batten.a length of metal pipe hung from the gridiron, for suspending scenery or equipment, as drops, flats, or lighting units.
    2. a narrow strip of lumber for constructing, reinforcing, or joining flats.
    3. a similar strip attached to a drop to keep it flat or taut.
verb (used with object)
  1. to furnish or bolster with battens.
  2. Nautical. to cover (a hatch) so as to make watertight (usually followed by down).
  3. Machinery. to secure (work) to a table or bed for a machining operation.
  4. Building Trades. to join or assemble (a steel column or the like) with batten plates.
  5. Theater.
    1. to suspend (scenery, stage lights, etc.) from a batten.
    2. to fasten a batten to (a flat or drop).

Origin of batten2

1400–50; late Middle English bataunt, batent finished board < Old French batant, noun use of past participle of batre to beat; see bate2, -ant
Related formsbat·ten·er, noun


  1. (in a loom) the swinging frame for holding and positioning the reed.
  2. a part of the lay of a loom.
verb (used with object)
  1. to beat (filling yarn) into place with the batten.

Origin of batten3

1825–35; alteration of French battant; see batten1


  1. JeanThe Garbo of the Skies, 1909–82, New Zealand aviator: first woman to make solo round-trip flight between England and Australia, 1934–35.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for batten

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • After the stakes were set up we had to batten them together.

  • Ivan was not of the type of man to press his popularity and batten upon it.

    The Genius

    Margaret Horton Potter

  • By the third motion the batten crowds this weft-thread into place.

  • Scott ordered the men to batten down the curtains on the weather side.

  • My purpose was to return on deck—strike off the batten—and set the grating free.

    Ran Away to Sea

    Mayne Reid

British Dictionary definitions for batten


  1. a sawn strip of wood used in building to cover joints, provide a fixing for tiles or slates, support lathing, etc
  2. a long narrow board used for flooring
  3. a narrow flat length of wood or plastic inserted in pockets of a sail to give it proper shape
  4. a lath used for holding a tarpaulin along the side of a raised hatch on a ship
  5. theatre
    1. a row of lights
    2. the strip or bar supporting them
  6. Also called: dropper NZ an upright part of a fence made of wood or other material, designed to keep wires at equal distances apart
  1. (tr) to furnish or strengthen with battens
  2. batten down the hatches
    1. to use battens in nailing a tarpaulin over a hatch on a ship to make it secure
    2. to prepare for action, a crisis, etc
Derived Formsbattening, noun

Word Origin

C15: from French bâton stick; see baton


  1. (intr usually foll by on) to thrive, esp at the expense of someone elseto batten on the needy

Word Origin

C16: probably from Old Norse batna to improve; related to Old Norse betr better 1, Old High German bazzen to get better


  1. Jean . 1909–82, New Zealand aviator: the first woman to fly single-handed from Australia to Britain (1935)
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

Word Origin and History for batten


"strip of wood (especially used to fasten canvas over ships' hatches)," 1650s, anglicized variant of baton "a stick, a staff" (see baton). Nautical use attested from 1769.


"to improve; to fatten," 1590s, probably representing an English dialectal survival of Old Norse batna "improve" (cf. Old English batian, Old Frisian batia, Old High German bazen, Gothic gabatnan "to become better, avail, benefit," Old English bet "better;" cf. also boot (v.)). Related: Battened; battening.


"to furnish with battens," 1775, from batten (n.); phrase batten down recorded from 1823. Related: Battened; battening.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper