Wednesday, 16 December 2009


There are many kinds of truth. Al Gore was poleaxed by an inconvenient one yesterday.
   - The Times talking about Al Gore and the Arctic

I think poleaxe is a pun. I'm not sure; but I think it is. North poleaxed. Do you see? The other week I actually woke up an unfortunate journalist on a Saturday morning to complain about a mild pun in an article only to discover that it had been completely unintentional. With The Sun you pretty much know that a pun is a pun. Puns in The Sun are out and proud and shoving the proverbial "it" down your throat. In the broadsheets puns tend to linger and loiter on the page trying not to attract attention. If challenged they will concede that yes they are puns, but no they never intended to actually make you laugh.

Anyway, I didn't know what a poleaxe was. They have nothing to do with poles, and everything to do with polls. A pollaxe (ax if you're efficient and American) was a medieval axe that was used to hit people over the head or poll. A poll as (as in Gallup) is a headcount, just as a poll tax is a tax on heads and a tadpole is a toad-head (tadpole used to be slang for a child, then got shortened to tad, then started to mean anything small, hence "move it a tad to the left"). A tadpole can also be called a polliwog, or wriggling head.

With the arrival of gunpowder, cannons and light-sabres pollaxes were driven from battlefield and confined themselves to abattoirs where they were used to kill or simply stun cattle, hence the modern use of poleaxed to mean stunned or paralysed. It's sad that this should have happened to Emile Heskey, but I'm sure it's the way he would have wanted to go.

A polecat, on the other hand is a cat that eats chickens or poules.

I'm still not certain that poleaxed was a pun. I'd go and wake up the writer, but there were three of them - Hannah Devlin, Ben Webster, Philippe Naughton - and I don't know where any of them sleep.


Uses for a polecat


  1. I saw a neat pun in the Metro this morning, about cigarettes and alcohol making "Kim Jong Ill".

  2. Greetings! I just discovered your blog and found it to be utterly delightful. Do you happen to know the outstanding Manchester band The Fall? Mark E. Smith has quite a way with words. (As opposed to me, a long time admirer of said band and admirer and observer, rather than speaker, of your language.)
    Whatever. The word 'poleaxe' features in the song The Classical, which is the only instance I ever heard it, in the mid 80's. Never knew what it meant. (Is it heard 'it' or 'of it'? I'm confused.) You might find this of interest. Or not. Be safe. Greetings!