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a short metal pin or bolt for holding together two plates of metal, its headless end being beaten out or pressed down when in place.

Source: Oxford Dictionary of English 3rd edition

Why "beat" is used here together with "out"? "To press down" means to flatten, right? What else one can possibly do with this "headless end?

  • You might find the beaten out usage easier to understand if you recognise that it could be replaced by squashed out or beaten flat. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Aug 27 '14 at 21:24
  • @FumbleFingers Okay, so "to beat out" is like to beat material until it becomes flat, isn't it? But what's the difference between "to press down" (which I also understand as to make flat) and "to beat out" then? – user9906 Aug 27 '14 at 21:43
  • Yes, to beat out in your definition is similar to, roll out (pastry, with a rolling pin, to make it flatter). Note that the word "rivet" can be used with quite a range of fastenings - usually the "headless" end is hit (beaten) with a hammer to flatten it (or squeezed very hard using a special tool), but I'm sure sometimes the much weaker "press" would be appropriate for some types of "rivets". – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Aug 27 '14 at 21:58
  • Now I get what "to beat out" means. :) And it turns out that "pressing down" doesn't necessarily involve flattening, just pushing down, am I right? – user9906 Aug 27 '14 at 22:10
  • Yes. In this usage, to beat [something] out always involves deforming it (in an "outward" direction, i.e. - flattening it). But if you press [something] down, the word down just indicates the direction of the pressure - which may or may not cause something to move or change shape. If you have a problem with words used within a dictionary definition like this, I suggest you find a different dictionary with a definition you can understand, so you can concentrate on what they're trying to tell you (don't agonise over how the definition is worded before you at least know that). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Aug 27 '14 at 22:22
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"to beat out" refers to repeated application of force (usually with a hammer or some other blunt instrument) to, as others have noted, push the material outward.

The contrast I think they are trying to make here between "beaten out" and "pressed down" is that there are generally two ways of forming a rivet into a flat surface (or making anything flat):

  • by consistently applying pressure on the rivet while its molten (pressing down, usually with some sort of mechanized press), or
  • by repeatedly applying short bursts of pressure (beaten out)

Note this also happens to other things: clothing, for instance, can be "pressed" or "beaten" to get out wrinkles (though not many beat laundry nowadays). Containers (such as walls or doors) are often noted to be "pressed upon" or "beaten against". Even people, when in a bad state, can be "pressed" (referring to being stressed out, etc.) or "beaten down" (usually had a confrontation or bad day, etc.).

I think the key here is to not worry to much about the preposition or other word that comes after a verb, but think of it as part of the verb to remember (in context, unfortunately). This is a common approach of linguistics, as well (Distributed Morphology, HPSG, Construction Grammars, etc.).

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The excess material is pushed "outward" (to the sides of the hole), thus forming a something like a nailhead. The material is not pushed "inward" into the object being riveted, because that would defeat the purpose of using a rivet: To form a mechanical connection without unnecessarily weakening the materials being joined.

Pushing the material inward would rumple or bend the materials being joined. This deformation could cause stress concentrations or cracks, which would weaken the joint. Welding could either soften and/or embrittle the materials being joined, which would also weaken the joint.

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