In a Word: Bastinado

March 14, 2011|By John McIntyre, The Baltimore Sun

Each week, The Sun's John McIntyre presents a moderately obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar — another brick to add to the wall of your working vocabulary. Use it in a sentence in a comment on his blog, You Don't say, and the best sentence will be featured next week. This week's word:


You are surely aware, especially if you ever watched the torture-porn series "24," that a great deal of human ingenuity has been directed at the discovery of means to inflict pain on other human beings. A particularly refined technique is the bastinado (bas-ti-NAH-doh), in which a person is bound and the soles of the feet are beaten with a stick or cane or other object. The nerve endings are close to the surface in the soles of the feet, so the pain is excruciating, and the whipping can be performed without leaving many visible marks.

The technique has been practiced for centuries in Turkey, Persia and China, but the West was not slow to adopt it in more recent decades. The English word, noun and verb, derives from the Spanish bastonada, in turn from baston, or "stick."

Example: In Congreve's "The Way of the World," an exasperated Lady Wishfort bursts out, "Go lie down and sleep, you sot, or as I'm a person, I'll have you bastinadoed with broomsticks."

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