Word of the Month: Batten

David Zapatka

While cruising around Asia, we heard we were going to encounter rough seas. Soon enough, we saw ocean spray splashing the 10th floor windows. Then there was an order to batten down the hatches, meaning to close the dead lights on the third floor. Storm covers (porthole covers) are called deadlights in maritime parlance.

Batten—bat·ten verb 1: to furnish with battens 2: to fasten with or as if with battens—often used with down. intransitive verb 1: to make one secure by or as if by battens battening down for the hurricane.” “Batten down the hatches.” 2: to prepare for a difficult or dangerous situation.

Origin and Etymology—probably from Old Norse batna to improve; akin to Old English betera better.

Batten comes from the name for an iron bar used to secure the covering of a hatchway on a ship, which was especially useful in preparation of stormy weather. The verb “batten” is used in variations of the phrase “batten down the hatches,” which means “to prepare for a difficult or dangerous situation.” It winds back to Latin battuere, meaning “to beat.”

First Use—circa 1540

Batten used in a sentence:

The boxes were securely battened before the journey.

Where extensive war damage had been done to roofs, these were to be covered with tarpaulins or roofing felt well battened down.

Areas of the prison are literally battened down at night and nobody ventures in.

A block grant battening down the activities of local authorities makes the possibilities of expansion difficult for them as time goes on.

There is an imaginary idea that they are people of bloated wealth battening on the lives of the people.

The legal community is again battening on the trading public.

We were able to batten down the house just before the storm hit.

Batten used on the web:

At the same time, others who had battened on the business of originating mortgagesthousands of small-time mortgage brokerswent out of business.”—From Nouriel Roubini and Stephen Mihm’s 2010 book Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in the Future of Finance

But on Thursday, as the United States co-hosts a second covid-19 summit designed to further the fight against the pandemic with funding for vaccines and more, this batten-the-hatches battle appears already forgotten.Adam Taylor, Washington Post, 12 May 2022

Sheila stares downward, as though battening her emotional hatches.Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein, New York Times, 13 June 2023

Everyone from Jeff Bezos to Gwyneth Paltrow is talking about the likelihood of a deepening recession, with the Amazon founder advising Twitter followers on Oct. 19 to batten down the hatches and the Goop CEO confessing late-night worries about the economic outlook a few days earlier.Brian Steinberg, Variety, 26 Oct. 2022

Have you been in a situation where you had to batten down the hatches, literally or figuratively? Please submit your experiences or any word you may like to share along with your insights and comments to [email protected].