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Definition: Of or pertaining to the gallows.

Pronunciation: Pah-tib-you-lare-ee


The word patibulary derives from the Latin word patibulum. It originally meant a yoke shaped like a fork that was placed around the necks of prisoners, or a gibbet shaped like a fork or the letter Y.

Why this word?

I originally came across the word patibulary in the book Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin, one of my favorite authors.

“Mrs. Gamely’s vocabulary was enormous. She knew words no one had ever heard of, and she used words every day that had been mainly dead or sleeping for hundreds of years. Virginia checked them in the Oxford dictionary, and found that (almost without exception) Mrs. Gamely’s usage was flawlessly accurate… She might describe something as patibulary, fremescent, pharisaic, Roxburghe, or glockamoid, and words like mormal, jeropigia, endosmic, mage, palmerin, thos, vituline, Turonian, galingale, comprodor, nox, gaskin, secotine, ogdoad, and pintulary fled from her lips in Pierian saltarellos.”

The book itself is wonderful, but his use of words I had never before encountered particularly intrigued me. I don’t have a need in my day to day life to describe the gallows but I do love the poetic and dramatic usage of the word.

It is the type of word that makes a person feel richer for the experience of knowing it, for the gift of description provided by it.

How to use the word patibulary in a sentence?

“The house had an air of overwhelming menace and despair. Its patibulary nature wore on me until at last I could see no other option in front of me but to burn it to the ground.”
“His idea of humor was of a particularly patibulary sort, not to my liking at all.”


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Written by Kate Fulton

Kate Fulton has a bachelor’s degree in classics and psychology from the University of Massachusetts and is working on a library science degree from Simmons College. She has always been fascinated by words- their usage, spelling, and etymology. Kate may be one of the few people who enjoyed the verbal section of the SAT. Yes, she is a word geek. Currently she bores her husband and young daughter with her love of vocabulary.


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