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[kap-stuh n, -stan] /ˈkæp stən, -stæn/
any of various windlasses, rotated in a horizontal plane by hand or machinery, for winding in ropes, cables, etc.
a rotating spindle or shaft, powered by an electric motor, that transports magnetic tape past the heads of a tape recorder at a constant speed.
Origin of capstan
1350-1400; Middle English < Middle French cabestan(t) < Old Provençal cabestan, variant of cabestran, presumably present participle of *cabest(r)ar, a verbal derivative of cabestre halter < Latin capistrum Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for capstan
Historical Examples
  • The gripes were now loosened, and the fall of one of the tackles was led to the capstan.

    Homeward Bound James Fenimore Cooper
  • He got round an old man's heart like a rope round a capstan.

    The Manxman Hall Caine
  • And none of them attempted to cut your lasso from their capstan?

  • capstan shanties are readily distinguishable by their music.

  • Then Captain Mayo heard the steady clanking of capstan pawls.

    Blow The Man Down Holman Day
  • Suddenly the capstan went round an inch; then another and another.

    The Three Midshipmen W.H.G. Kingston
  • The hatchway was closed, and the order to man the capstan was given a third time.

    Down the Rhine Oliver Optic
  • The capstan bars are manned; the sunken cable is drawn taut.

    Historic Boys

    Elbridge Streeter Brooks
  • The messenger is brought to the capstan, or the cable to the windlass.

    The Sailor's Word-Book William Henry Smyth
  • Working at the windlass or capstan with more than usual exertion.

    The Sailor's Word-Book William Henry Smyth
British Dictionary definitions for capstan


a machine with a drum that rotates round a vertical spindle and is turned by a motor or lever, used for hauling in heavy ropes, etc
any similar device, such as the rotating shaft in a tape recorder that pulls the tape past the head
Word Origin
C14: from Old Provençal cabestan, from Latin capistrum a halter, from capere to seize
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 capstan

late 14c., from Old French cabestant, from Old Provençal cabestan, from capestre "pulley cord," from Latin capistrum "halter," from capere "to hold, take" (see capable).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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