noun \ˈgi-lə-ˌtēn; ˌgē-(y)ə-ˈ, ˈgē-(y)ə-ˌ\

: a machine with a heavy blade that was used in the past to cut off the heads of people who had been sentenced to death

Full Definition of GUILLOTINE

:  a machine for beheading by means of a heavy blade that slides down in vertical guides
:  a shearing machine or instrument (as a paper cutter) that in action resembles a guillotine
chiefly British :  closure by the imposition of a predetermined time limit on the consideration of specific sections of a bill or portions of other legislative business
guillotine transitive verb


French, from Joseph Guillotin †1814 French physician
First Known Use: 1790

Other Legal Terms

actionable, alienable, carceral, chattel, complicity, decedent, larceny, malfeasance, modus operandi


noun \ˈgil-ə-ˌtēn, ˈgē-ə-ˌtēn\   (Medical Dictionary)

Medical Definition of GUILLOTINE

: a surgical instrument that consists of a ring and handle with a knife blade which slides down the handle and across the ring and that is used for cutting out a protruding structure (as a tonsil) capable of being placed in the ring

Biographical Note for GUILLOTINE

Guil·lo·tin \gē-y-taⁿ\ , Joseph–Ignace (1738–1814), French surgeon. Guillotin was a member of the National Assembly during the time of the French Revolution. In 1789 he proposed the passage of a law requiring that all death sentences be carried out by decapitation, a practice up to that time reserved for the nobility. At the time decapitation was perceived to be a humane method of execution, and its uniform application was intended as a statement of egalitarian ideals. Various decapitation devices had been in use for centuries, but an improvement was commissioned, and subsequently introduced in 1792. Gradually the device became known as the guillotine as it became associated with the man who had advocated it as a humane instrument of capital punishment. The surgical instrument known as the guillotine is so called because it features a similar sliding-blade action.


noun    (Concise Encyclopedia)

Instrument for inflicting capital punishment by decapitation. A minimal wooden structure, it supported a heavy blade that, when released, slid down in vertical guides to sever the victim's head. It was introduced in France in 1792 in the French Revolution, though similar devices had been used in Scotland, England, and other European countries, often for executing criminals of noble birth. The name derived from a French physician and member of the National Assembly, Joseph-Ignace Guillotin (1738–1814), who was instrumental in passing a law requiring all sentences of death to be carried out “by means of a machine,” so that execution by decapitation would no longer be confined to nobles and executions would be as painless as possible. The last execution by guillotine in France took place in 1977.


Next Word in the Dictionary: guillotiner
Previous Word in the Dictionary: guilloche
All Words Near: guillotine

Seen & Heard

What made you want to look up guillotine? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).