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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. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for ballast
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Her ballast was silver, her cargo gold and emeralds and rubies.

    School Reading by Grades James Baldwin
  • The vessel was in ballast, and had brought money to make her purchases with.

    Ned Myers James Fenimore Cooper
  • On vessels in ballast without passengers or cargo forty per cent.

    The Panama Canal J. Saxon Mills
  • You are in the same boat, and we must divide the ballast a little more equally.'

    Barnaby Rudge Charles Dickens
  • Place it upon its side and weight it with lead or other material, making this ballast fast so that it cannot move about.

  • Four or five of these busts had been struck into the launch as ballast.

    Homeward Bound James Fenimore Cooper
  • It carries an immense quantity of iron, or even lead, ballast.

    The Sailor's Word-Book William Henry Smyth
  • Will you take me down to the Point when you get the ballast?

    Little By Little William Taylor Adams
  • They are like the ballast with which every ship is always loaded, at once to keep it upright and enable it to sail properly.

British Dictionary definitions for ballast


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 ballast

"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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