Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A tropical American tree (Ochroma pyramidale) having wood that is soft, very light in weight, and that is used as a substitute for cork in insulation, floats, and crafts such as model airplanes.
  • n. The wood of this tree. Also called corkwood.
  • n. A raft consisting of a frame fastened to buoyant cylinders of wood or metal.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A large tree, Ochroma lagopus, native to tropical America, with wood that is very light in weight.
  • n. The wood of this tree.
  • n. A raft or float, used principally on the Pacific coast of South America.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A raft or float, used principally on the Pacific coast of South America.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. The native name of the Ochroma Lagopus, a bombaceous tree common in the forests upon the coasts of tropical America.
  • n. A kind of raft or float much used on the west coast of South America for crossing lakes or rivers, for landing through the surf, and by fishermen.
  • n. On Lake Titicaca, an aboriginal flat-bottomed boat or canoe, sometimes capable of conveying as many as 30 persons or a dozen donkeys.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. forest tree of lowland Central America having a strong very light wood; used for making floats and rafts and in crafts
  • n. strong lightweight wood of the balsa tree used especially for floats

Etymologies

Spanish.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Spanish barco. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • Cuban martyrdom is not new - whether we speak of those Don Quixotes who took up arms against the revolution early on, the many would-be Mandelas who rotted in prison or the families who perished on boats fleeing the island, giving a moral meaning to the Spanish word balsa "(raft).

    The Globe and Mail - Home RSS feed

  • Taking a little float of reeds, called a balsa, they work their way outside the heavy rollers, then watch their opportunity and get their balsa pointed in towards the

    Recollections of a naval life : including the cruises of the Confederate States steamers, "Sumter" and "Alabama",

  • This is the kind of balsa-wood backstory that is knocked into Hollywood plots every day. as tidy and punctual as postage stamps

    Why James Wood is so Good…

  • The thin wire runs parallel to and above a length of aluminum foil, with the two attached and held apart by a lightweight nonconductor such as balsa wood.

    MAKE Magazine

  • I used thirty-second of an inch balsa for a lot of applications, especially as it could be scribed into weatherboards (clapboard siding?) and with care into corrugated iron and provided it was painted with an oil based paint the scribed indentations became permanent.

    Coyote Blog » Blog Archive » Unexpected Problem – Finding Non Fluorescent White Paper

  • "By age 9, I had acquired a fairly serious addiction to balsa wood and glue," he wrote in an autobiographical sketch.

    The Lindbergh of Hobbyists

  • Even on his honeymoon, he told The Wall Street Journal in 1989, "I just had to go out and get some balsa and glue."

    The Lindbergh of Hobbyists

  • Mr. Hill went through dozens of designs, each painstakingly constructed from balsa wood and translucent red mylar.

    The Lindbergh of Hobbyists

  • For those unfamiliar with the term, as I was until I showed up for the party at the IAC Building, that undulating Frank Gehry structure on the Hudson River and 18th Street, decoupage refers to gluing stickers to things, in this case a balsa—or at least some kind of wood—replica of the vehicle being feted.

    Wheeling Out Hollywood

  • Some good old hand to hand fighting with us in our raincoats and beat duty helmets and of course our sturdy balsa wood truncheons.

    G20 police assault verdict SHOCK! « POLICE INSPECTOR BLOG

Comments

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  • I've never heard it used that way either, c_b. Thanks for adding it to "Out to Sea." :-)

    March 17, 2008

  • I knew this word from childhood as a kind of wood my brother used in model airplanes, and figured it was a tree. But I never heard it used to denote a type of boat:

    "'There is as odd a craft as you can possibly imagine, a balsa, I think, sailing in the strangest way... the poor soul seems to be entangled in his sheet...'"
    --P. O'Brian, The Wine-Dark Sea, 222

    March 16, 2008