Posted by: nancycurteman | February 23, 2010

The Guillotine, A Humane Execution Machine

Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin agreed with enlightened thinkers like Voltaire and Locke that eighteenth century methods of execution were bloody and cruel. He believed decapitation was the most humane method of execution and he promoted use of a machine like the one later named the guillotine. The first guillotine execution took place in 1792. By the end of the French Revolution the guillotine had beheaded 15,000 people. The last execution by guillotine took place in 1977. In 1981 France abolished the death penalty.

Isn’t it interesting that the guillotine was named after Dr. Guillotin, a man, yet the French word for the machine, guillotine, is feminine? Go figure.


  1. It is also interesting that you finish that post with such a “cutting” remark.


  2. An alternative name is “La Louisette” (see the Wikipedia entry in French) which comes from Dr. Louis who helped promote the device. Once again, a feminine name from a masculine inventor. A third name is simply “La Veuve,” the widow, because the machine created so many widows. I have no idea why the device is always given a feminine name. But the tradition persists.


  3. Thanks for your interesting historical tidbits. Of special interest to me is the feminizing of Louis to Louisa.


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