Wondrous Words Wednesday: John Masters

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) and interesting (to us, again) words we encountered in our readings. See this week round-up at BermudaOnion’s blog!

This week I found my new word in The Rock by John Masters.


All the soldiers — infantry, artillery, and even the engineers-artificers — are like madmen! I saw a dozen soldiers barbecuing a pig over a fire of pure cinnamon, worth near £200. I watched a corporal of the Highlanders eat 8 lbs. of beef in ten minutes. Others took the Virgin out of the Roman Catholic church and put “her” into the whirligig, as is done to loose women.

At first, I looked for a definition of whirligig and found nothing suitable for this context:

whirligig n. 1 a toy that spins round, e.g. a top or windmill 2 another term for roundabout 3 a process or activity characterized by constant change or hectic activity 4 (also whirligig beetle) a small black water beetle which typically swims rapidly in circles on the surface.

A whirligig — but not the one Masters meant. Photo credits: Brit on Flickr

Then after a Google search I ended up finding the explanation on Wikipedia:

A whirligig is a punitive or torture contraption comprising a suspended cage-like device. The victim would be placed in the cage, which was spun violently in order to cause severe nausea.

This was used as a military punishment, as by the British Army. For example, in Tangiers, the whirligig was reportedly used on women, by whom it was more feared than the pillory, stocks and wooden horse.

Yuck! Definitely not something I would like to try!
(You can find a picture on this page.)


(All definitions are taken from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary © 2008 via WordReference.com unless otherwise stated.)


5 comments on “Wondrous Words Wednesday: John Masters

  1. I am familiar with the word whirligig (and doesn’t it have a marvellous spelling?), but in the toy and beetle contexts. I’ve never heard of the torture implement either.

Ditelo con parole vostre/Let your words be heard

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