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A Martinet

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.

Martinet as a person

in French

The term was used for an external pupil of a collège (i.e. continental high school, especially Catholic). Jean Bodin, quoting the examination of three witches by Paolo Grillandi of Castiglione at the Castello San Paolo, Spoleto, records that the witches referred to the Devil as Master Martinet (maistre Martinet), or the Little Master (petit maistre).

in English terms

  • In English, the term martinet is usually used not in reference to the whip itself, but rather him who would use it, a person who demands strict adherence to set rules, especially such a person in the military. This sense of the word reputedly comes from the name of Jean Martinet, Inspector General of the army of Louis XIV of France and thus would be etymologically only by accident related to the earlier sense.
  • In an extended sense, a martinet is any person for whom a strict adherence to rules and etiquette is paramount: martinets often use etiquette and other rules as an excuse to trump ethics, to the point that etiquette loses its ethical ground. The Ugandan dictator Idi Amin was famously described as a "strutting martinet" by Time (magazine) in 1977.[1]


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