• pillory •
Pronunciation: pil-êr-ri • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, Verb
Meaning: 1. (Noun) A medieval device for public punishment by humiliation consisting of a wooden framework mounted on a post, with holes for holding the head and hands to prevent escape. 2. To put someone in a pillory. 3. To subject someone to the ridicule and public humiliation associated with a pillory.
Notes: The purpose was to punish by public humiliation and rebuke, but those in the scornful crowd often threw rotten fruit and vegetables and dead vermin at the person in the stocks. On occasion the crowd turned violent and threw stones and bricks, killing the person.
In Play: Perhaps the most famous person put to the pillory was Daniel Defoe, author of The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. He was pilloried in 1703 for writing a satirical political pamphlet. While in prison he wrote his famous "Hymn to the Pillory", which pilloried the practice of pillorying. At the height of his popularity at the time, he was regaled with flowers by the sympathetic crowd that had gathered to see him.
Word History: Not much is known about the history of this word. It was borrowed from French pilori, which we think came from a derivation of Latin pila "pillar" by way of Medieval Latin pilar "pillar". Etymologists are not even certain of this. The word ostensibly only occurred in Latin and was probably a borrowing. (Let us now thank Albert Skiles for reminding those who think nothing ever changes of this primitive form of punishment.)