Definition from Wiktionary, the free dictionary
Jump to navigation Jump to search
See also: Babbitt



A portrait by Bass Otis of Isaac Babbitt (1849),[n 1] the inventor of the alloy now called babbitt.
Bars and pigs of DuraKapp #2, a type of babbitt (etymology 1)

Etymology 1[edit]

The noun is derived from Babbitt, the surname of the American inventor Isaac Babbitt (1799–1862) who invented the alloy.[1]

The verb is derived from the noun.


babbitt (countable and uncountable, plural babbitts)

  1. Short for babbitt metal, Babbitt metal (“a soft white alloy of variable composition (for example, nine parts of tin to one of copper, or fifty parts of tin to five of antimony and one of copper) used in bearings to diminish friction”).
    Synonyms: (rare) Babbitt's metal, bearing metal
    • 1867 October 29, John Underwood, Improved Babbitting and Drilling Jig, US Patent 0070294 (PDF version), page 1:
      Figure 2 represents a top plan of the "Babbitting" jig, placed in or upon a cast-iron frame, preparatory to the pouring or casting of the "Babbitt" or other soft metal on to or around its journals, to form journal bearings in said cast-iron frame.
    • 1919 March, “Babbitting Bearings”, in Care and Repair of Farm Implements. No. 5.—Grain Separators (U.S. Department of Agriculture Farmers’ Bulletin; 1036), Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, published 1920, →OCLC, page 14:
      Remove all sharp edges from the babbitt with a chisel or file and try the shaft after removing the paper wrapping for a fit. If a light coat of oil mixed with lampblack be smeared on the shaft and the shaft revolved, the lampblack will catch on the high points of the babbitt, then by removing the shaft and scraping off these high spots a good bearing can be produced.
    • 1952, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, “Counterfeiting”, in Law and Order in Canadian Democracy: Crime and Police Work in Canada, revised edition, Ottawa: Edmond Cloutier, [], →OCLC, page 209:
      Coins made from nickel babbitt are fairly hard and give a clear bright ring. This makes it easier to pass them due to the widespread belief that a sure test of a counterfeit coin is to drop it on a hard surface to see if it will "ring". [] The simplest test is to cut the edge of a suspected coin with a pocket knife. If it is made of babbitt the metal will pare off quite easily.
    • 1895 June, “The Fisher Self-oiling Engine”, in Power, volume XV, number 6, New York, N.Y.; Chicago, Ill.: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, →ISSN, →OCLC, page 10, column 2:
      The cross-head is cast of crucible steel and faced with Babbitt. [] The rod is secured to the crank pin by body bound bolts, this bearing being provided with Babbitt shells which are prevented from turning by paper liners extending to the pin.
    • 1992, William A. Glaeser, “Soft Metal Bearing Materials”, in Materials for Tribology (Tribology Series; 20), Amsterdam; London: Elsevier Science Publishers, →ISBN, page 72:
      Perhaps the most familiar soft bearing alloys are the babbitts. These have been in use since the early 19th century when printer's type metal was utilized for machinery by casting it into holes drilled in iron housings. [] Babbitt or whitemetal bearing materials represent a class of alloys developed specifically for bearing applications.
    • 2003, Avraham Harnoy, “Design Charts for Finite-length Journal Bearings”, in Bearing Design in Machinery: Engineering Tribology and Lubrication, New York, N.Y.; Basel: Marcel Dekker, →ISBN, page 164:
      In most applications, the inner bearing surface is made of a thin layer of a soft white metal (babbitt), which has a low melting temperature.
    • 2019, Wei Jiang, “Sliding Bearings”, in Analysis and Design of Machine Elements, Singapore: John Wiley & Sons Singapore, →ISBN, page 350:
      Babbitts may be lead-based (as 75%Pb, 15%Sb, 10%Sn) or tin-based (as 89%Pb, 3%Cu). They use lead or tin as a soft matrix metal and hard particles of Sb-Sn or Cu-Sn to resist wear. Because of their softness, babbitts are unrivalled in conformability and embeddability. [] Because of low strength and high cost, a thin babbitt overlay, usually about 0.025 mm, is often deposited as liners over steel bushings to combine the great load carrying capacity of steel with conformability and corrosion resistan[ce] of babbitts.
Alternative forms[edit]


babbitt (third-person singular simple present babbitts, present participle babbitting, simple past and past participle babbitted)

  1. (transitive) To line (something) with babbitt metal to reduce friction.
    • 1867 October 29, John Underwood, Improved Babbitting and Drilling Jig, US Patent 0070294 (PDF version), page 1:
      The caps for these journal-boxes or bearings may be Babbited by this same jig, and they would, of course, exactly conform to the other portions of the bearings in the frame. [] This drilling jig is a negative of the interior of the frame. It has two sets of bearings, c d and e f, which are at right angles to each other, and which set in the longitudinal and transverse bearings that have been made and "Babbited" in the cast frame, and thus steady and hold it.
    • 1872, “[Claims for the Gold Medal for 1870. Second Department.] Statement of Linforth, Kellogg & Co., of San Francisco.”, in Transactions of the California State Agricultural Society during the Years 1870 and 1871, volume III, Sacramento, Calif.: T. A. Springer, →OCLC, page 145:
      These bearings, with their caps, are babbitted with metal of the finest quality, a jig representing the shafting being used to locate and regulate the proportion of the bearing precisely.
    • 1912 June, J. A. H. Phillips, “Forms of Babbitting Fixtures”, in Wood Craft: A Journal of Woodworking, [], Cleveland, Oh.: Gardner Print Co., →OCLC:
      The work of babbitting bearings offers considerable opportunity for the use of different forms of fixtures that are capable of making a material increase in the efficiency with which this operation can be carried on.
    • 1920 July, R. C. Leibe, “A Quick Way to Babbitt”, in Waldemar Kaempffert, editor, The Popular Science Monthly, volume 97, number 1, New York, N.Y.: Modern Publishing Company, →OCLC, page 98, column 2:
      The common way may be described as babbitting one-half of the bearing at a time: then by means of pasteboard liners between the halves, making the other half complete. [] It takes half the time required to babbitt the bearings in halves.
    • 2015, Fred D. Crawshaw; E[mil] W. Lehmann; Byron D[avid] Halsted; James H. Stephenson, Ultimate Guide to Farm Mechanics: A Practical How-to Guide for the Farmer, New York, N.Y.: Skyhorse Publishing, →ISBN, page 600:
      To babbitt any kind of box, first chip out all of the old babbitt and clean the shaft and box thoroughly with benzine. [] In babbitting a solid box cover the shaft with paper, draw it smooth and tight, and fasten the lapped ends with mucilage.
Alternative forms[edit]

Etymology 2[edit]

From Babbitt, the surname of George Babbitt, the title character of the novel Babbitt (1922) by the American author Sinclair Lewis (1885–1951).[2] The word was also popularized by the George (1898–1937) and Ira Gershwin (1896–1983) song “The Babbitt and the Bromide”, first featured in the 1927 musical Funny Face and later in the film Ziegfeld Follies (1945).


babbitt (plural babbitts)

  1. (US, dated) Alternative letter-case form of Babbitt (a person who subscribes complacently to materialistic middle-class ideals)
    • 1930 The Literary digest, Volume 105, Funk and Wagnalls, p.21
      One speaks of a babbitt habit, a babbitt era. Nothing is more true. America recognized itself in Babbitt, it demurred, but it also admired.
    • [2002 Tamkang review, Volume 33, Tamkang College of Arts and Sciences, p.158
      [...] a "babbitt" is a person full of self-confident bluster who is nevertheless a narrowminded philistine and a hypocrite.]
    • 2003 William Hyland, George Gershwin: a new biography, Greenwood Publishing Group, p.116
      Ira relished telling the story that Fred Astaire took him aside and said he knew what a babbitt was, but what was a bromide?
Derived terms[edit]


  1. ^ From the collection of the Old Colony History Museum in Taunton, Massachusetts, USA.


  1. ^ babbitt, n.1”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, June 2011.
  2. ^ Babbitt, n.2”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, June 2011; “Babbitt, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.

Further reading[edit]