Word of the Week (155): SPADROON (probability 11848), by David Sutton

Historically a SPADROON is a sword, especially a broadsword, designed to both cut and thrust. It comes ultimately from the same root as ESPADA, the Spanish sword used by a bullfighter; this root also pops up in SPADASSIN, a word from the Italian meaning swordsman.

There has always been a good deal of romance attached to the sword; I don't see it myself, a sword being fundamentally a nasty sharp bit of metal designed to maim and kill, but anyway it is not surprising that swords come in all shapes and sizes with a plethora of names. Thus we have the BILBO (or BILBOA), a kind of rapier, the ESTOC, a French short sword, the CURTAXE (or CURTALAX or CURTALAXE) which despite its name was not an axe but a short broad sword, and the FALCHION (with alternative spellings FAUCHION, FAUCHON and FAULCHION), a broad curved sword. You will remember how when Lear enters carrying the dead Cordelia in his arms he takes some satisfaction from having slain her hangman:

Lear: I kill'd the slave that was a-hanging thee.
Captain: 'Tis true, my lords, he did.
Lear: Did I not, fellow?
I have seen the day, with my good biting falchion
I would have made them skip....

Spenser gives us BROND or BRONDYRON. A SCIMITAR is a kind of curved sword: this has far too many alternative spellings - CEMITARE, SCIMETAR, SCIMITER, SEMITAR, SEMITAUR, SIMITAR, SYMITAR and SYMITARE. A CURTANA is sword with a blunt tip, symbolic of mercy. The double-edged Sikh sword is known as a KHANDA. Japan gives us the KATANA. A SCHLAGER is a German duelling sword: it used to be the fashion for German students to acquire facial scars made by these. The SCHIAVONE was a basket-hilted broadsword used in Venice by the Doge's bodyguard of Slavs; in Italian Schiavoni means Slavs. (Psst, quick, what's the anagram of SCHIAVONE?).

And let us not forget the CLAYMORE, that takes its name from the Gaelic claidheamh mór, great sword. It was probably such a sword that the Irish hero Fergus mac Roich swung when he lopped off the tops of three hills at one stroke in the final battle of the great Irish epic 'Tain Bo Cuailnge'; and to this day in Meath, they say, you can see the three flat topped mounds that he left. Ah, the Irish were never ones for letting reality get in the way of the imagination....


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