- guil·lo·tine (gĭl’ə-tēn′, gē’ə-)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 guillotine—the most notable symbol of the excesses of the French Revolution—was 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.
Word Histories. 2014.