Wednesday, May 9, 2012
That the "pole" in poleaxe is actually an alteration of poll? The original word was "pollax," being a combination of poll + ax. In Middle English, poll meant head. We still use the word that way when we talk about taking a poll--it's a literal reference to counting heads. With its long handle, the pollax could deliver an awesome downward strike that would demolish a helmet and crush or split an enemy's head, or poll; hence the name.
As poll drifted away from meaning head in everyday use, the similarity between poll and pole took over, and it was natural to think that pole referred to the weapon's handle rather than its target. But the name is more graphic than that; the pollax is literally a head-splitter.
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Awesome bit of etymology here. I'm filing this one away. Someday maybe it'll come in handy.ReplyDelete
Thanks for sharing this, Steve.
I used to have that mini in the pic! Man, what ever happened to that? Sigh!ReplyDelete
Quite an interesting bit of trivia btw. :)
I'm sure that's a Grenadier figure, and I'm pretty sure it came from a box of knights. It looks like a Julie Guthrie sculpt, but that's an educated guess. It's one of my favorites.Delete
Interesting bit of etymology re: pole vs. poll, Steve. But I think you may have misinterpreted the significance of the "head" part: I would imagine it's more likely a reference to the head of the weapon, not the head of its victim. I.e., "poll-axe" = "weapon with an axe-blade as its head", not "axe for chopping people's heads".ReplyDelete
I could be wrong, of course.
As could I, of course. There's a lot of conjecture and assumption in etymological conclusions. This interpretation seems the most likely to me. All pole weapons have a head, but only this one makes specific reference to a head. Most pole weapons were used much like spears and quarterstaffs, and the pollax could be handled the same way. Its unique design and kinetic properties, however, imply that it was also intended to be swung overhead, very hard, to deliver massive blows against heavily armored opponents. Most other pole weapons would be clumsy or less effective if used that way. The fact that we still use the term "poleaxed" to mean "struck down by a single blow" adds credence (though there's evidence this use comes not from Medieval warfare but from slaughterhouses, where a similar tool was used to fell cows and pigs--same idea, anyway).Delete