[kap-stuh n, -stan]


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.

Nearby words

  1. capsian,
  2. capsicum,
  3. capsid,
  4. capsize,
  5. capsomere,
  6. capstan bar,
  7. capstan lathe,
  8. capstan table,
  9. capstone,
  10. capsula

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 Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for capstan

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 for capstan

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).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper