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[gil-uh-teen, gee-uh-; verb gil-uh-teen, gee-uh-] /ˈgɪl əˌtin, ˈgi ə-; verb ˌgɪl əˈtin, ˌgi ə-/
a device for beheading a person by means of a heavy blade that is dropped between two posts serving as guides: widely used during the French Revolution.
an instrument for surgically removing the tonsils.
any of various machines in which a vertical blade between two parallel uprights descends to cut or trim metal, stacks of paper, etc.
verb (used with object), guillotined, guillotining.
to behead by the guillotine.
to cut with or as if with a guillotine.
Origin of guillotine
1785-95; named after J. I. Guillotin (1738-1814), French physician who urged its use
Related forms
unguillotined, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for guillotine
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • He did not quite see the connection between the bon-bons and the guillotine.

    Night and Morning, Complete Edward Bulwer-Lytton
  • It was now half-past three, and the guillotine was nearly ready.

  • You know it is a capital crime, to mourn for, or sympathise with, a victim of the guillotine.

    A Tale of Two Cities Charles Dickens
  • Not merely the cannons and rifles, but even the guillotine and the gallows were at rest.

    Freeland Theodor Hertzka
  • It was his fate to escape the gallows in England and the guillotine in France.

British Dictionary definitions for guillotine


noun (ˈɡɪləˌtiːn)
  1. a device for beheading persons, consisting of a weighted blade set between two upright posts
  2. the guillotine, execution by this instrument
a device for cutting or trimming sheet material, such as paper or sheet metal, consisting of a blade inclined at a small angle that descends onto the sheet
a surgical instrument for removing tonsils, growths in the throat, etc
Also called closure by compartment. (in Parliament, etc) a form of closure under which a bill is divided into compartments, groups of which must be completely dealt with each day
verb (transitive) (ˌɡɪləˈtiːn)
to behead (a person) by guillotine
(in Parliament, etc) to limit debate on (a bill, motion, etc) by the guillotine
Derived Forms
guillotiner, noun
Word Origin
C18: from French, named after Joseph Ignace Guillotin (1738–1814), French physician, who advocated its use in 1789
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for guillotine

"The name of the machine in which the axe descends in grooves from a considerable height so that the stroke is certain and the head instantly severed from the body." ["Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure," January 1793], 1791, from French guillotine, named in recognition of French physician Joseph Guillotin (1738-1814), who as deputy to the National Assembly (1789) proposed, for humanitarian and efficiency reasons, that capital punishment be carried out by beheading quickly and cleanly on a machine, which was built in 1791 and first used the next year. The verb is first attested 1794. Related: Guillotined; guillotining.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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guillotine in Medicine

guillotine guil·lo·tine (gĭl'ə-tēn', gē'ə-)
A ring-shaped instrument with a sliding knifeblade running through it, used in cutting off an enlarged tonsil.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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guillotine in Culture
guillotine [(gil-uh-teen, gee-uh-teen)]

A machine designed for beheading people quickly and with minimal pain. The guillotine, which used a large falling knife blade, was devised by a physician, Joseph Guillotin, during the French Revolution and was used as the official method of execution in France until the twentieth century.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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