A martinet is either: (apparently unrelated) a punitive device or a stickler for rules.
The French word denotes a type of hammer (in French probably derived from marteau). A martinet is a short, scourge-like (multi-tail) type of whip made of a wooden handle of about 25 cm (10 inches) in length and about 10 lashes of equal, relatively short length. The lashes are usually made of leather, but sometimes soap-stiffened cords are used in place of leather. It is a traditional instrument of physical punishment in France (in French it also meant a similar dusting implement; the type for chastisement was also known as fouet d'enfant, 'child's whip') and other European countries.
The martinet was often applied on the calves, for children did not have to disrobe that way. Otherwise it was often applied on the bare buttocks, adding a dose of humiliation to the physical pain, like the English and Commonwealth caning, birching, naval boy's pussy, American paddling, et cetera. As it is not blunt and heavy, impact on clothes would be reduced too much to remain effective.
It is generally considered abusive to use it for spanking children nowadays. Still, martinets are still sold in the pet section of French supermarkets; it is generally believed that a large share of those sold are meant for use on children, not pets, or at least to threaten them. It is also often still carried demonstratively by Zwarte Pieten (male black assistants of Saint Nicholas, the European original of Santa Claus, celebrated on December 6; attribute persisting where lashes are banned, as in Belgium) to chastise very naughty kids instead of leaving presents.
- The martinet is also used as an implement in erotic spanking scenes, hard to distinguish from the flogger which is usually lighter.
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See sting and thud for more on this distinction.