Q: "gallows" also including a platform?

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Mon Jan 7 16:02:19 UTC 2013

At 1/7/2013 09:04 AM, Amy West wrote:
>On 1/7/13 12:00 AM, Automatic digest processor wrote:
>>Date:    Sun, 6 Jan 2013 21:07:37 -0500
>>From:    "Joel S. Berson"<Berson at ATT.NET>
>>Subject: Q:  "gallows" also including a platform?
>>If someone was to be punished by being "set upon the gallows with a
>>rope around their neck" (as in colonial laws and verdicts), doesn't
>>that mean that there are usages of "gallows" that necessarily include
>>a platform?  The OED merely says the "apparatus" "usually consist[s]
>>of two uprights and a cross-piece".  I know there were hangings where
>>the executioner simply pulled up on a rope, but there were also
>>executions where a "platform" (such as a trap door) was lowered.
>I'm not an expert, but I've heard talks on medieval and Renaissance
>executions, and the period illustrations showed a variety of gallows
>forms: there's the raising, there's standing on something kicked out
>underneath, and then there's the trapdoor. *That* last one  is much
>later, I believe, when they started using the hangman's slipknot in the
>19th? century. Earlier hangings were death by strangulation, not death
>by snapping the neck.

There is a well-known passage in Samuel Sewall's diary on the hanging
of Captain Quelch and six other pirates in 1704.  In one
transcription:  "When the Scaffold was hoisted to a due height the
seven Malefactors went up. ... When the Scaffold was let to sink
..."  This scaffold apparently was a considerable "apparatus"
(assuming Sewall properly used the singular), or at least a
considerably long plank.

>The OED def, like a good def., is just
>delineating the minimum, allowing for additional elements, because the
>structure does vary by time and place.

I suppose the question is -- since the OED definition describes an
"apparatus" that "usually", whether a better definition would
describe the "usual" "apparatuses".  I still feel that because people
will read that certain "malefactors" were "set upon the gallows" (but
not thereupon executed by hanging), it would be useful to explain how
someone could be "set upon" "two uprights and a cross-piece".

>---Amy West


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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