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A capstan on a sailing vessel.


From either Old French cabestan, from Old Provençal cabestan, from capestre(pulley cord) or from Spanish cabestran, both of which derive from Latin capistrum(halter), from capiō(take hold of).



capstan ‎(plural capstans)

  1. (nautical) A vertical cylindrical machine that revolves on a spindle, used to apply force to ropes, cables, etc. It is typically surmounted by a drumhead with sockets for levers used to turn it.
    • 1951, W. I. B. Crealock, Vagabonding Under Sail, Hastings House (New York), page 211:
      We toiled over the capstan, and late in the afternoon slipped out of the harbour.
    • 2013 July-August, Henry Petroski, “Geothermal Energy”, in American Scientist, volume 101, number 4:
      Ancient nomads, wishing to ward off the evening chill and enjoy a meal around a campfire, had to collect wood and then spend time and effort coaxing the heat of friction out from between sticks to kindle a flame. With more settled people, animals were harnessed to capstans or caged in treadmills to turn grist into meal.
  2. (electronics) A rotating spindle used to move recording tape through the mechanism of a tape recorder.


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