Definitions

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

  • n. The curve formed by a perfectly flexible, uniformly dense, and inextensible cable suspended from its endpoints. It is identical to the graph of a hyperbolic cosine.
  • n. Something having the general shape of this curve.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. The curve described by a flexible chain or a rope if it is supported at each end and is acted upon only by no other forces than a uniform gravitational force due to its own weight.
  • n. The curve of an anchor cable from the seabed to the vessel; it should be horizontal at the anchor so as to bury the flukes.
  • n. A system of overhead power lines that provide trains, trolleys, buses, etc., with electricity, having a straight conductor wire and a bowed suspension cable.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. Relating to a chain; like a chain.
  • n. The curve formed by a rope or chain of uniform density and perfect flexibility, hanging freely between two points of suspension, not in the same vertical line.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • Relating to a chain; like a chain. Also catenarian.
  • n. A catenary curve.

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

  • n. the curve theoretically assumed by a perfectly flexible and inextensible cord of uniform density and cross section hanging freely from two fixed points

Etymologies

New Latin catēnāria, from Latin, feminine of catēnārius, relating to a chain, from catēna, chain.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Late Latin catenaria, in turn from Latin catēna ("chain"). Attested since 1788. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • The term catenary comes from the curve created by the sagging of a wire or chain between two points.

    The Overhead Wire

  • Get the N.E. corridors speeds ups by replacing catenary from the 1930’s, better superelevation, equipment et al. That’s only a start as the rest of the country needs upgrading as well.

    Obama Rides the Rails to Power - The Caucus Blog - NYTimes.com

  • A catenary is a cross between a cat and a canary, and if you keep one you must discipline it strongly to make sure it does not eat itself.

    Making Light: Open thread 136

  • A catenary is the "curve made by a freely flexible chain or cord when hanging between two fixed points" Webster's New World.

    December, 1908

  • (The catenary is the curve of a flexible cable suspended by its ends and acted on by gravity.)

    Alluring Shades of a Steely Hue

  • A catenary is the curve defined by a rope or chain hanging loosely from two supports, like a "U"with a detachable jaw.

    Archive 2007-06-01

  • The shape of the curve a catenary is the one that minimizes the potential energy of the entire chain.

    Thermodynamics, Again - The Panda's Thumb

  • These cables would be as much as fifteen inches in diameter and each would hang over the river in what is known as a catenary curve, that perfect natural form taken by any rope or cable suspended from two points, which in this case were the summits of the two stone towers.

    The Great Bridge

  • To eliminate any possibility of the trolley wire breaking, a strong steel cable, called a catenary, was slung just above the trolley wire.

    Tom Swift and His Electric Locomotive, or, Two Miles a Minute on the Rails

  • Where, as is generally the case, the shape of the cone is determined by the distribution of the falling cinders or divided lava which constitutes the mass of most cones, the slope is in general that known as a catenary curve -- i.e., the line formed by a chain hanging between two points at some distance from the vertical.

    Outlines of the Earth's History A Popular Study in Physiography

Comments

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  • "And in fact the ropeway was complete before they had even so much as a smell of the transports: the entire midshipmen's berth and all the ship's boys had, on one pretext or another, walked, crawled, and finally climbed the whole majestic catenary curve from bottom to top..."
    --Patrick O'Brian, The Ionian Mission, 335

    February 14, 2008