"A true-born martinet never thinks he is at all severe."
Poor Nellie(1888)

Martinet pronounced (mar-t(ê)n-'et) is an eponym. As Webby 1913 notes it means a strict disciplinarian or one who demands absolute adherence to forms and rules. The word martinet was around and in use by the French long before it became infamous. During the fourteenth century it appeared as the name of two birds, the martin, as well as, the swift. Then a chandelier, and by 1743 it was used to identify a whip used on children, It was also a word that named the demon who called forth the witches to their assemblies. Perhaps it stuck in todays lexicon because during the medieval days it was the name of military engine that catapulted large stones.

The noun today is credited primarily to a 17th century French army officer by the name of Jean Martinet (?-1672). He served under Louis XIV during the Dutch campaign. Well known for as a tactician and as a military engineer he created many forms of battle strategies, built a copper assault boat and devised pontoon bridges. He was known to go to the extreme of ordering executions for even minor infractions. Because of that his name came to be synonymous with the severity of discipline. A lieutenant colonel in the Régiment du Roi in 1670 he added a grenadier company and is credited in part for transforming the French Army from an armed mob, into a somewhat effective fighting force. By somewhat effective I mean he was shot "accidentally on purpose" by his own men during the Battle of Duisburg; inadvertently killed when he entered the line of fire of his own rear ranks. Perhaps one of the men in his unit had simply had more than his fair share Martinet's strict training methods. In any event, his name lives on today, in senses that extend well beyond military discipline.


inter alia:

Jean Martinet:

Vive le Roi! Vive l'Empéreur!:


As fans of the kink of spanking (in a consentual adult context), my SO and I had read the occasional more or less erotic story about attractive young French maids getting their fannies toasted with the dreaded martinet. The stories invariably describe the effect as quite painful, so as sadomasochists, naturally our interest was aroused.

We already own multiple riding crops, canes, tawses, paddles, Afghan single tails and other whips, cooking spoons, spatulas, straps and floggers with which we occasionally chastise one another. Our toy collection even includes a fly swatter for more light hearted play. Needless to say, we were eager to add a martinet to our collection and to our list of experiences.

I started with some research. As in other European countries, it appears that corporal punishment of minors is no longer en vogue in France. It's still practiced by some of the more conservative families though, often in a rural setting, probably in the gray zone of French law. IANAL and not French either, so I'm not certain what the story is. But as some parents apparently still use them, there must be a source of martinets.

Would I need to duck under the Pont Neuf at midnight to recite an obscure shibboleth to a hooded stranger with illicit wares concealed in his dark cloak? No, the pragmatic French have found a much more innocuous channel for their disciplinary needs: Officially, they require little whips to correct their pooches. So martinets are now declared as "dog whips" and sold in the pet departments of home improvement stores.

Near the end of a recent vacation in France, I crept into a large store of this sort, and nosed around the garden and pet departments. There, on a bottom shelf, were not one but two little whips for sale! A tag on the shelf even helpfully declared them to be martinets. Not knowing when we'd hit France again, I grabbed both and made my way to the cash register. On the way, I mentally assembled French phrases for "a gag gift for a colleague who's getting married," but the cashier couldn't care less about my sinister purchase. She rang my purchase up, exchanged Euros, gave me a little paper bag and wished me a nice day. Inwardly trembling like I'd heisted the Mona Lisa out of the Louvre, I absconded to my getaway car, where my gun moll was anxiously awaiting.

We tested our treasures that very evening. Kind-hearted individuals who, like myself, do not condone beating children will be at least somewhat relieved to hear that the martinets available from the above mentioned source are essentially toys. A light wooden handle, about six inches long, holds half a dozen thin leather tails of similar length, of about the same shape and weight as shoestrings. Even applied vigorously to the bare bottom, they provoke at best a mild sting and a short-lived pinkening of the target area. My girlfriend complained that more damage was done to her arm than to my backside. Perhaps in enlightened Europe, punishment by martinets has become more symbolic than anything else.

Good and frugal BDSM perverts that we are, you'll be happy to note that we yet found a use for these charming souvenirs: They can be used to good disciplinary effect if applied to the front rather than the back side.

Mar"ti*net` (?), n. [So called from an officer of that name in the French army under Louis XIV. Cf. Martin the bird, Martlet.]

In military language, a strict disciplinarian; in general, one who lays stress on a rigid adherence to the details of discipline, or to forms and fixed methods.

[Hence, the word is commonly employed in a depreciatory sense.]


© Webster 1913.

Mar"ti*net`, n. [F.] Zool.

The martin.


© Webster 1913.

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