Stories We Like: A Guide to the Comma
"The name of the machine in which the axe descends in grooves from a considerable height so that the stroke is certain and the head instantly severed from the body." ["Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure," January 1793], 1791, from French guillotine, named in recognition of French physician Joseph Guillotin (1738-1814), who as deputy to the National Assembly (1789) proposed, for humanitarian and efficiency reasons, that capital punishment be carried out by beheading quickly and cleanly on a machine, which was built in 1791 and first used the next year. The verb is first attested 1794. Related: Guillotined; guillotining.
guillotine guil·lo·tine (gĭl'ə-tēn', gē'ə-)
A ring-shaped instrument with a sliding knifeblade running through it, used in cutting off an enlarged tonsil.
A machine designed for beheading people quickly and with minimal pain. The guillotine, which used a large falling knife blade, was devised by a physician, Joseph Guillotin, during the French Revolution and was used as the official method of execution in France until the twentieth century.