guillotine definition by Webster's New World
- an instrument for beheading by means of a heavy blade dropped between two grooved uprights
- an instrument, working on a similar principle, as for cutting paper
- Brit. a method of limiting Parliamentary debate on a bill by voting at previously fixed times on specific sections of it
Origin: French after J. I. Guillotin (1738-1814), French physician who advocated its use during the French Revolution in preference to less humane methods
guillotine definition by American Heritage Dictionary
- A device consisting of a heavy blade held aloft between upright guides and dropped to behead a person condemned to die.
- An instrument, such as a paper cutter, similar in action to a guillotine.
- To behead with a guillotine.
- To cut with a guillotine or sharp blade.
Origin: French, after Joseph Ignace Guillotin (1738-1814), French physician.Word History: “At half past 12 the guillotine severed her head from her body.” So reads the statement containing the first recorded use of guillotine in English, found in the Annual Register of 1793. Ironically, the guillotine, which became the most notable symbol of the excesses of the French Revolution, was named for a humanitarian physician, Joseph Ignace Guillotin. Guillotin, a member of the French Constituent Assembly, recommended in a speech to that body on October 10, 1789, that executions be performed by a beheading device rather than by hanging, the method used for commoners, or by the sword, reserved for the nobility. He 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 named Pelletier or Peletier. 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.
guillotine - Cultural Definition
A machine designed for beheading people quickly and with minimal pain. The guillotine, which used a large falling knife blade, was devised by a physician, Joseph Guillotin, during the French Revolution and was used as the official method of execution in France until the twentieth century.
guillotine - Medical Definition