AskDefine | Define martinet

Dictionary Definition

martinet n : someone who demands exact conformity to rules and forms [syn: disciplinarian, moralist]

User Contributed Dictionary



Etymology 1

After the example of 17th century French army officer Jean Martinet.


  1. A strict disciplinarian
  2. in general, one who lays stress on a rigid adherence to the details of discipline, or to forms and fixed methods.

Etymology 2

Diminutive of martin


  1. The martin bird.



from marteau 'hammer', itself from Latin martulus 'hammer'


  1. multi-tail whip, comprising leather or whipcord thongs fixed on a handle, to dust off or to administer a beating (usually to a child's bottom)
  2. mechanical hammer on a motor-driven cogwheel, as used to beat metal
  3. swallow-like bird species, black with a white throat

Extensive Definition

The martinet is a punitive device traditionally used in France and other parts of Europe. The word also has other usages (see below). It is also a term for a type of hammer in French, a dimunitive of marteau (Latin martulus), "hammer".


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 in modern times. Still, martinets were 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. But nowadays many supermarkets in France have stopped selling the martinet even in the pet section. 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 but that is usually lighter.
  • A French homonym, from first name Martin and suffix -et, is a kind of swallow.

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 (one of the first great drill masters of modern times, died 1672) and thus would be etymologically only by accident related to the earlier sense. It was the drill master who revolutionized the early modern army by instituting a standardized system capable of turning raw recruits into a disciplined fighting force, thereby eliminating the mercenaries and soldiers-of-fortune who had been the mainstays of earlier armies.
History records that Martinet was eventually killed by friendly fire while leading an infantry assault at the siege of Duisburg. Whether or not this was entirely accidental is, of course, a matter of conjecture.
  • In an extended sense, a martinet is a person for a strict adherence to rules and etiquette are paramount: martinets often use etiquette and other rules as an excuse to trump ethics, to the point that etiquette loses its ethical ground.

See also

martinet in German: Martinet (Züchtigungsinstrument)
martinet in French: Martinet (instrument)

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Simon Legree, absolute monarch, absolute ruler, all-powerful ruler, arrogator, autarch, autocrat, caesar, commissar, czar, despot, dictator, disciplinarian, driver, duce, hard master, oligarch, oppressor, pharaoh, slave driver, stickler, tyrant, usurper, warlord
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