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Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Abattoir. An 8 letter word. Abattoir is often linked to the word slaughterhouse.   A slaughterhouse; a place where animals are killed for food. However it can have several more meanings when dissected.

“Abatt” the beginning of abattoir. Coming from “abate”. “Abate” comes from the Anglo-norman and old french word “abatre.” There is also the middle french variation “abattre.” Over time “abatre” has meant several different things. In 1100, “abatre” meant to knock down, to raze, or to dismantle. In 1155, “abatre” meant to cut down, but only in reference to people. It was applied to trees much earlier in the 13th century. Also, in 1155, it could mean to over throw a king. In the late 12th century it meant to slay or kill. Later on in that century, it's meaning was to curb someone's power. Later, in 1230 it meant to remove currency from circulation. In 1256, it meant to reduce or lessen. In 1268, “abatre” was defined as conquering. 1270 or later, it was meant as a means to bring down someone physically or mentally. In around 1285 “abatre” meant to impoverish someone.

In law, “abatre” meant something quite different. In, 1292 it meant to annul or to become null. One of the least common terms is from the early 13th century where “abatre” means to clip someone's coins. Also, a less common definition is that it means to discontinue and to reduce the price of value of something. Some more common definition’s are: to stop, to put an end to, to discourage, to suppress, to take down, and to beat down.

A word that is slightly similar to “abatre” is “rabattre” which means to execute a horse so that both back legs fall to the ground simultaneously. This is quite strongly relate to the fact that the whole word, the word “abattoir” is a place where animals are killed.

The word “abattoir” can also be used in a non-animal related context. For example, “an abattoir of words”, meaning that it is a slaughtering of words, a destruction of words. This expression, if you will, may be used to describe a poorly written text. This is quite interesting, because the combination the syllables in french role of the tongue quite nicely. The word abattoir is not an abattoir of letters, it is quite elegant. However, the word abattoir means destruction, massacre and beating. It is strange to have such a beautiful word mean something so ugly.

1. Oxford English Dictionary, “abate, v.1” http://www.oed.com.proxy.lib.uwaterloo.ca/view/Entry/122#eid36012229

2. Oxford English Dictionary, “abattoir, n.”,

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