What's the word for placing heads on pikes as a deterrent?
June 15, 2016 7:51 PM   Subscribe

Isn't there a particular word for the deterrent method of putting thieves' heads on pikes outside a village perimeter to discourage further attacks on the villagers?

I can't string together a successful Google query on this - I really thought there was a specific word for this and that it was something like "talisman" but I know that's wrong.
As in, "Right! We'll put these heads here as a TALISMAN! That'll show 'em! They'll know what they get if they mess with us!"

In my head it's something Old English sounding and maybe three syllables. Talisman, harbinger, polemic - something like that, but those aren't it.
posted by scrowdid to Writing & Language (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Baton Rouge could be a reference to a french term, but I don't speak modern french or any french really. Just lived in Baton Rouge and heard local history.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:55 PM on June 15, 2016

posted by Thorzdad at 8:10 PM on June 15, 2016

posted by pitrified at 8:15 PM on June 15, 2016 [11 favorites]

posted by greta simone at 8:16 PM on June 15, 2016

posted by dilaudid at 8:24 PM on June 15, 2016

"Larum", "alarom", and "alarum" seem to be Middle English terms that originally meant any form of warning in general, but which have survived as "alarm" referring to an audible warning.

It's Latin rather than Germanic but "caveat" also means warning or beware in this sense, as in "caveat emptor" or "cave canem".
posted by XMLicious at 8:26 PM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Wouldn't be "barbican" would it?

That not a name for the practice you describe, it just means a fortified tower placed in from of a the gate in a city or castle wall. But the barbican of Micklegate Bar in York was where the severed heads of traitors were displayed to people entering the city.
posted by Diablevert at 9:14 PM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nth gibbeting.
posted by pompomtom at 10:58 PM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think maybe I phrased the question misleadingly - the word I'm chasing after would be more descriptive of the 'acting as deterrent' concept rather than describing the impaling process itself.

I feel like it's something like "effigy", but that isn't ringing the right bell.

It would fit in the sentence "We put these thieves' heads on pikes outside the city walls as a ___________ in case any more come around".

It kind of serves the same purpose as words like "threat", "warning", "deterrent", but in my mind it's a distinct term fairly specifically connected to the heads-on-pikes thing. In the way that the word I could have sworn there was a word, but maybe I am just dreaming it.
posted by scrowdid at 11:53 PM on June 15, 2016

In case they furnish any leads, TV Tropes has pages for Decapitation Presentation and Dead Guy on Display.
posted by XMLicious at 2:05 AM on June 16, 2016

The word you are looking for is deterrent!
posted by shmarko at 2:13 AM on June 16, 2016 [5 favorites]

I could have sworn that you could call such a thing a ward (as in 'ward off') but Google doesn't seem to agree with me. But it sounds right!
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:35 AM on June 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I feel that there isn't a word beyond deterrent, at least partly because the sarcastic 'pour encourager les autres' is used quite regularly - in the sort of context where I think if there was a very specific word it would be used. (The full quote is from Voltaire - "Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres" = "In this country, it is wise to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others.")

The 1660 account of the trial and executions of the 'regicides' simply states that their heads were put on poles; similarly Matthew of Westminster talking about William of Wallace's head just says "caput palo super pontem Londinensem affigitur" - head put on a pole on London bridge. In both of those cases the intent was very much deterrent as punishment, so if there was a word it would be an ideal moment to use it (Matthew ends his description of the execution with "Ecce finis immisericordis hominis, quem immisericordia sie finivit!", which google translate tells me is "Behold the end of merciless man whom ruthlessness thus ended!", so he doesn't strike me of one who would miss the opportunity to mention a specific deterrent).
posted by Vortisaur at 3:46 AM on June 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

posted by vitabellosi at 3:57 AM on June 16, 2016

posted by Think_Long at 4:02 AM on June 16, 2016

It would fit in the sentence "We put these thieves' heads on pikes outside the city walls as a ___________ in case any more come around".

- forewarning

- portent
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:59 AM on June 16, 2016

I was thinking about your question earlier as I've been reading some medieval history recently. Maybe the reason you're not finding a word for this practice is that it wasn't done? I don't have enough of a background in this area to confirm this easily, but while capital punishment was a penalty on the books even for petty crimes, and displaying heads on spikes was a thing, most of the time I've seen the whole head display practice mentioned in English history was in reference to traitors, not theives --- people who had rebelled against the king. William Wallace, Richard of York, the executioners of Charles I --- they all had their heads displayed, but it seems like it was a pretty big deal to do that and they'd often be up there for years and years. If every thief executed in London was subject to the same treatment Tower Bridge would have looked like a lollipop stand. Gibbeting was certainly done, particularly for pirates, but that's the whole body, not just the head. I'm not saying this whole "to discourage thieves" thing never happened, but maybe it's simply not often enough to have a name for it.
posted by Diablevert at 5:15 AM on June 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

thwart? or any of these?
posted by speakeasy at 5:51 AM on June 16, 2016

In re to showbiz_liz above, you could call it a "ward" if you like -- I have often seen this term used this way in modern witchcraft.

For future reference: a talisman draws something toward you (luck, money), and an amulet keeps something away (sickness, the evil eye). T is for toward, A is for away.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:12 AM on June 16, 2016

posted by Dolley at 7:55 AM on June 16, 2016

as an Object Lesson?
posted by whuppy at 7:55 AM on June 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Micklegate Bar is one of the gates into York, and the heads of traitors were displayed on pikes there. None of the articles I'm finding about it refer to that practice by any particular name.
posted by adamrice at 8:39 AM on June 16, 2016

Hmm, with nobody able to come up with it, I am increasingly thinking I got some signals crossed and this word doesn't exist.

After more reflection and with help from suggestions here, I think I had just been thinking of the word "talisman", but with an inaccurate definition. Given how commonly it features in the phrase "talisman to ward off", I think I started assuming a "talisman" was "something that wards things off". Being that the pikes-on-heads thing is kind of the epitome of something that is meant to ward off, it then became strongly associated in my mind with that misunderstood word.

So, when I'd been struggling to find the word for the pikes-on-heads the other day and finally thought, "Is it... talisman?", I looked up that word and found out what it REALLY meant, and thought, "well, THAT's not it, then, what could it be?"
posted by scrowdid at 8:48 AM on June 16, 2016

"Spiking" might be what you're looking for, although it doesn't necessarily mean that the spiked heads are displayed as a deterrent.
posted by slkinsey at 9:45 AM on June 16, 2016

posted by MoseyMe at 12:39 PM on June 16, 2016

I'm fairly sure it's gibbeting.

From the OED entry for gibbet, v.:
b. To hang (a carcase) on a gibbet by way of infamous exposure. Also with up.

1752 [see sense 3].
1761 Brit. Mag. 2 669 This murderer..under~standing that he was to be gibbeted..was greatly enraged.
1790 E. Burke Refl. Revol. in France 209 Wickedness..walks abroad; it continues its ravages; whilst you are gibbeting the carcass, or demolishing the tomb.
c1820 S. Rogers Adventure in Italy (1828) ii. xiv. 87 Soon should I..limb by limb, be mangled on a wheel, Then gibbeted to blacken for the vultures.
1828 Scott Fair Maid of Perth xi, in Chron. Canongate 2nd Ser. II. 319 Away with that convict to the gallows, and gibbet him alive an you will.
1866 J. E. T. Rogers Hist. Agric. & Prices I. iv. 88 All the culprits were hanged; according to Walsingham, were gibbetted in chains.

posted by culfinglin at 1:46 PM on June 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

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