Word Count

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Word Story: "Bludgeon"

The word bludgeon is perfect for writers looking for a synonym for club that isn't overused. It can be a noun or a verb. As a noun it means "a heavy, short club that is thicker at one end or is weighted at one end." Think of the clichéd caveman's club, and you've got the right idea.

As a verb, bludgeon means "to hit someone or something with or as with a heavy club." As in:

A man who tried to bludgeon his neighbour to death with a claw hammer has been jailed for 18 years. —Essex Echo (2011)

The noun form appeared first, in 1730, in Dictioarium Britannicum by Nathan Bailey. It seems we don't know where Bailey picked it up. The Oxford English Dictionary gives us the reference:

Bludgeon, an oaken stick or club.

The verb form came later, in 1868. By 1888, says Chambers Etymology, a figurative sense appeared: "to bully or threaten."

One of the Rangers' surprising postseason heroes continued to bludgeon opposing pitchers, delivering a key three-run home run in the sixth inning. —Shreveport Times (2011)

Etymology

Unfortunately, no one knows where bludgeon came from. A couple of other words have the same -udgeon stem and are also of unknown origin: curmudgeon, "someone who is cranky, stubborn, resentful," and dudgeon, which Michael Quinion of World Wide Words defines as "a state of anger, resentment, or offence."

Are they all from the same source? It could be. Perhaps a curmudgeon, in a dudgeon, would use a bludgeon to quell his anger.

Current Usage

Perhaps it's because we're a kinder, gentler people (more like it's because we have more efficient weapons), but bludgeon's popularity seems to be on the wane. A search in the Corpus of Contemporary American English produces only 124 hits (among 424 million words), a good chunk of them from transcripts.

This Ngram shows that bludgeon is also appearing less often in books:

But I like bludgeon. It's got that sonicky quality that Roy Blount writes about. It starts with a small effort (bl-), as when one raises a bludgeon. Then it gets forceful in the middle (-dge-), when the impact of such a blow hits a person. It ends on a downbeat, with the -on almost getting swallowed up. Rather like being bludgeoned. After the initial impact, you probably aren't aware if the club has been lifted for another blow or not.

How would you use bludgeon in your writing?


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Erin Brenner is the founder of Right Touch Editing, a customizable editing service. She has been an editing professional for over 15 years and is sought after for her expertise in language mechanics. She works on a variety of media in all levels of editing. In addition, she provides bite-sized lessons to improve your writing on her blog The Writing Resource and is the editor of Copyediting.com, which offers advice and training for those who edit copy. Follow her on Twitter at @ebrenner or on Facebook. Click here to read more articles by Erin Brenner.

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Comments from our users:

Monday March 12th 2012, 4:59 AM
Comment by: Robert D. (Kennesaw, GA)
Being in a high state of dudgeon, the curmudgeon picked up a bludgeon and bludgeoned the queen to death thereby ending up in the dungeon.

Robert Devereaux
Monday March 12th 2012, 12:17 PM
Comment by: Nancy FriedmanVisual Thesaurus Contributor
There's also "trudgen," an old-fashioned swimming stroke that combines freestyle arms with sidestroke kick. It's named for the English swimmer John Trudgen (1852-1902). http://bit.ly/xrhWsq

I can see why the trudgen stroke hasn't survived: the name sounds like "trudge"; from sound alone, you'd expect to bludgeon the water rather than knife through it. And the stroke is relatively inefficient compared to modern freestyle.
Monday March 12th 2012, 10:50 PM
Comment by: Brian S. (Waterford, CT)
sonicky? what is the meaning?
Tuesday March 13th 2012, 10:20 AM
Comment by: Erin B. (Haverhill, MA)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
"Sonicky" is a term Roy Blount Jr. coined to describe words that sound like their meaning but doesn't imitate a sound (that would be "onomatopoeic," like "boom"). Writes Blount, "[Sonicky] seeks to combine 'sonic' (evocative of sound) and 'kinesthetic' (evocative of body movement. The most expressive English words...engage the ear, the vocal apparatus, and by implication other parts of the body" ("Alphabetter Juice," 7).
Friday March 16th 2012, 4:19 PM
Comment by: catwalker (Ottawa Canada)
Well, bludgeon got me thinking about synonyms, and I found a few. Most seem to be suffering the same fate Erin reports for bludgeon. I don't have quantitative data, but I recall hearing them more often when I was younger. Maybe now we have more sophisticated tools in their place, like cattle prods and tasers.

Anyway, my quick list includes: billy, nightstick, truncheon, baton, cudgel, blackjack, shillelagh.

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