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guil·lo·tine (gĭlə-tēn, gēə-)
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n.
1. A device consisting of a heavy blade held aloft between upright guides and dropped to behead a person condemned to die.
2. An instrument, such as a paper cutter, similar in action to a guillotine.
tr.v. guil·lo·tined, guil·lo·tin·ing, guil·lo·tines
1. To behead with a guillotine.
2. To cut with a guillotine or sharp blade.

[French, after Joseph Ignace Guillotin (1738-1814), French physician.]

Word History: Ironically, the guillotinethe most notable symbol of the excesses of the French Revolutionwas named for a humanitarian physician, Joseph Ignace Guillotin. On October 10, 1789, in a speech given before the French National Constituent Assembly (the legislature that governed France at the time), Guillotin recommended that executions be performed with a beheading device rather than by hanging, the method traditionally used for commoners, or by beheading with the sword, the method traditionally reserved for the nobility. Guillotin argued that beheading by machine was quicker and less painful than the work of the rope and the sword. In 1791 the Assembly did indeed adopt beheading by machine as the state's preferred method of execution. A beheading device designed by Dr. Antoine Louis, secretary of the College of Surgeons, was first used on April 25, 1792, to execute a highwayman. The device was called a louisette or louison after its inventor's name, but because of Guillotin's famous speech, his name became irrevocably associated with the machine. After Guillotin's death in 1814, his children tried unsuccessfully to get the device's name changed. When their efforts failed, they were allowed to change their name instead.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2019 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
 

Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices

    Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:

    Indo-European Roots

    Semitic Roots

    The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.

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