verb (used without object)

  1. to stop, as at an obstacle, and refuse to proceed or to do something specified (usually followed by at): He balked at making the speech.
  2. (of a horse, mule, etc.) to stop short and stubbornly refuse to go on.
  3. Baseball. to commit a balk.

verb (used with object)

  1. to place an obstacle in the way of; hinder; thwart: a sudden reversal that balked her hopes.
  2. Archaic. to let slip; fail to use: to balk an opportunity.


  1. a check or hindrance; defeat; disappointment.
  2. a strip of land left unplowed.
  3. a crossbeam in the roof of a house that unites and supports the rafters; tie beam.
  4. any heavy timber used for building purposes.
  5. Baseball. an illegal motion by a pitcher while one or more runners are on base, as a pitch in which there is either an insufficient or too long a pause after the windup or stretch, a pretended throw to first or third base or to the batter with one foot on the pitcher’s rubber, etc., resulting in a penalty advancing the runner or runners one base.
  6. Billiards. any of the eight panels or compartments lying between the cushions of the table and the balklines.
  7. Obsolete. a miss, slip, or failure: to make a balk.

  1. in balk, inside any of the spaces in back of the balklines on a billiard table.


  1. (intr usually foll by at) to stop short, esp suddenly or unexpectedly; jibthe horse balked at the jump
  2. (intr foll by at) to turn away abruptly; recoilhe balked at the idea of murder
  3. (tr) to thwart, check, disappoint, or foilhe was balked in his plans
  4. (tr) to avoid deliberatelyhe balked the question
  5. (tr) to miss unintentionally


  1. a roughly squared heavy timber beam
  2. a timber tie beam of a roof
  3. an unploughed ridge to prevent soil erosion or mark a division on common land
  4. an obstacle; hindrance; disappointment
  5. baseball an illegal motion by a pitcher towards the plate or towards the base when there are runners on base, esp without delivering the ball

Old English balca “ridge, bank,” from or influenced by Old Norse balkr “ridge of land,” especially between two plowed furrows, both from Proto-Germanic *balkan-, *belkan- (cf. Old Saxon balko, Danish bjelke, Old Frisian balka, Old High German balcho, German Balken “beam, rafter”), from PIE *bhelg- “beam, plank” (cf. Latin fulcire “to prop up, support,” fulcrum “bedpost;” Lithuanian balziena “cross-bar;” and possibly Greek phalanx “trunk, log, line of battle”). Modern senses are figurative, representing the balk as a hindrance or obstruction (see balk (v.)). Baseball sense is first attested 1845.


late 14c., “to leave an unplowed ridge when plowing,” from balk (n.). Extended meaning “to omit, intentionally neglect” is mid-15c. Most modern senses are figurative, from the notion of a balk in the fields as a hindrance or obstruction: sense of “stop short” (as a horse confronted with an obstacle) is late 15c.; that of “to refuse” is 1580s. Related: Balked; balking.

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