• synonyms


[kap-stuh n, -stan]
  1. any of various windlasses, rotated in a horizontal plane by hand or machinery, for winding in ropes, cables, etc.
  2. 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.
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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
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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.

British Dictionary definitions for capstan


  1. 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
  2. any similar device, such as the rotating shaft in a tape recorder that pulls the tape past the head
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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

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).

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper