Printable Version
Pronunciation: pol-æks Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, verb

Meaning: 1. (Noun) A medieval battle weapon with an elaborate axe-head with a spike atop it, designed to pierce armor. 2. (Verb) To use a poleaxe in battle. 3. (Verb) To stymie, thwart, cripple. 4. (Verb) To stun, shock, astonish, catch way off guard.

Notes: You may either keep the silent E at the end of this word or omit it: poleax. As you can see in Meaning above, it may be used as a noun or verb, and the verb may be used literally or figuratively.

In Play: We might think today's word has little use today, but it is still occasionally used in expressions like this: "When Horace hit Throckmorton, the latter fell as if hit by a poleaxe." This word is used far more often as a verb: "Too many US senators manage to poleax legislative bills with the filibuster."

Word History: poleaxSince a poleaxe has only two parts, a pole with an elaborate axe head, you might think today's Good Word comes from a combination of pole + axe. Not so. Until the 14th century it was spelled pollax or pol-axe, implying an origin as poll "head" + ax(e). Apparently, the original purpose was beheading your opponent in battle. The old poll tax was actually a "head tax" that applied to each person. The same confusion of poll with pole also occurred in tadpole, where no poles are involved. How the word came to be in Germanic languages is a mystery. It probably came from PIE bol- "tuber", which became bulbus "onion, bulb" in Latin and bolos "clod (of earth) in Greek". But the connecting trail isn't there. (More gratitude is owed to long-time friend and staunch supporter George Kovac for recommending today's Good Word, hanging by a thread to our vocabulary.)

Dr. Goodword,

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