Etymology
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mainstay (n.)

"chief support," 1787, a figurative use of a nautical noun meaning "stay which extends from the main-top to the foot of the foremast" (late 15c.), from main (adj.) + stay (n.).

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Definitions of mainstay

mainstay (n.)
a prominent supporter;
Synonyms: pillar
mainstay (n.)
a central cohesive source of support and stability;
Synonyms: anchor / keystone / backbone / linchpin / lynchpin
mainstay (n.)
the forestay that braces the mainmast;
From wordnet.princeton.edu