[gav-uh l]


a small mallet used by the presiding officer of a meeting, a judge, etc., usually to signal for attention or order.
a similar mallet used by an auctioneer to indicate acceptance of the final bid.
Masonry. kevel2.

verb (used with object)

to chair (a legislative session, convention, meeting, etc.).
(of a presiding officer)
  1. to request or maintain (order at a meeting) by striking a gavel.
  2. to begin or put into effect (a legislative session, motion, etc.) by striking a gavel.


Origin of gavel

An Americanism dating back to 1795–1805; origin uncertain
Can be confusedgavel gravel grovel


[gav-uh l]


feudal rent or tribute.

Origin of gavel

before 900; Middle English govel, Old English gafol, akin to giefan to give; cf. gabelle Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for gavel

Contemporary Examples of gavel

Historical Examples of gavel

  • It broke up, now, and the judge in the middle rapped with his gavel.

    Lone Star Planet

    Henry Beam Piper and John Joseph McGuire

  • Mr. Trimmer pounded on the table with his pencil in lieu of a gavel.

    The Making of Bobby Burnit

    George Randolph Chester

  • Radbourn ruled with a gavel of iron, but they all enjoyed it the more.

    A Spoil of Office

    Hamlin Garland

  • Silence for a while, that Mr. Price may feel the gavel in his hand, which he does.

    Coniston, Complete

    Winston Churchill

  • The Speaker rapped with his gavel, and I failed to hear the opening words.

    A Far Country, Complete

    Winston Churchill

British Dictionary definitions for gavel



a small hammer used by a chairman, auctioneer, etc, to call for order or attention
a hammer used by masons to trim rough edges off stones

Word Origin for gavel

C19: 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 gavel

"small mallet used by presiding officers at meetings," 1805, American English, of unknown origin; perhaps connected with German dialectal gaffel "brotherhood, friendly society," from Middle High German gaffel "society, guild," related to Old English gafol "tribute," giefan "to give" (see habit). But in some sources gavel also is identified as a type of mason's tool, in which case the extended meaning may be via freemasonry. As a verb, by 1887, from the noun.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper