• synonyms


noun (used with a plural verb)
  1. Sometimes brank. a device consisting of a headpiece with a flat, iron bit to restrain the tongue, formerly used to punish scolds.
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Origin of branks

1585–95; perhaps to be identified with Middle English bernak “bridle, snaffle”; see barnacle2


verb (used without object)
  1. to hold up and toss the head, as a horse when spurning the bit or prancing.
  2. to bridle; restrain.
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Origin of brank

1500–50; (def 1) of uncertain origin; possibly related to German prangen “to adorn oneself, brag”; compare Middle High German brangen, brankieren; possibly 1550-1600; (def 2) of uncertain origin; probably a back formation from Scots branks “a bridle for restraining a scold”
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for branks

Historical Examples

  • A man and his wife were ordered to stand at the Kirk-style with the branks in their mouths.

    Bygone Punishments

    William Andrews

  • It belongs to a class of engines far more formidable than branks.

    Bygone Punishments

    William Andrews

  • They'll need to stand on a baikie that put the branks on him.

  • The horse had neither saddle nor bridle, but only a branks (or halter) about its head.

  • Who has not heard of the Langholm witches, and the branks to subdue them?

    Woman, Church & State

    Matilda Joslyn Gage

British Dictionary definitions for branks


pl n
  1. (formerly) an iron bridle used to restrain scolding women
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Word Origin

C16: of unknown origin
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

Word Origin and History for branks


1590s, of unknown origin, perhaps from North Sea Germanic. An instrument of punishment for women, originally Scottish, it was a kind of iron cage for the head with a metal bit attached to still the tongue.

Paide for caring a woman throughe the towne for skoulding, with branks, 4d. ["Municipal Accounts of Newcastle," 1595]

"Ungallant, and unmercifully severe, as this species of torture seems to be, Dr. Plot, in his History of Staffordshire, much prefers it to the cucking stool, which, he says, 'not only endangers the health of the party, but also gives the tongue liberty 'twixt every dip.' " [Brockett, "A Glossary of North Country Words,"1829].

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper