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Uncertain, but equivalent to holy +‎ stone. As an amulet, probably from holey (having a hole). As a scouring stone, variously derived from holey, from the amulet, from its association with Sunday cleaning, from its users' adoption of a kneeling position similar to prayer, and (least likely) from their original provision by raiding graveyards for tombstones.


  • (UK) IPA(key): /ˈhəʊl.ɪ.stəʊn/
    • (file)
  • (US) IPA(key): /ˈhoʊl.i.stoʊn/


holystone (plural holystones)

  1. (nautical) A piece of soft sandstone used for scouring the wooden decks of ships, usually with sand and seawater. [1823]
  2. A stone with a naturally-formed hole, used by Yorkshiremen for good luck. [1825]


  • (sandstone used to scour ships' decks): bible
  • (holed rock used as an amulet): lucky stone




holystone (third-person singular simple present holystones, present participle holystoning, simple past and past participle holystoned)

  1. (transitive) To use a holystone. [1827]
    • 1840, Richard Henry Dana, Two Years before the Mast, page 6:
      Six days shalt thou labour and do all thou art able,
      And on the seventh—holystone the decks and scrape the cable.
    • 1861, Thomas Spencer Wells, “Boils”, in The Scale of Medicines with which Merchant Vessels Are to Be Furnished..., 2nd edition, London: John Churchill, New Burlington Street, page 92:
      The boils called sand boils, which form on the front of the knee, are generally produced by small particles of sand being rubbed beneath the skin when the men are kneeling to holystone the decks. Very troublesome sores are thus produced. Great care should, therefore, be taken never to kneel with the bare knees upon a sanded deck.
    • 1911, Ambrose Bierce, “Sabbath”, in The Devil's Dictionary (The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce)‎[1], New York: The Neale Publishing Company:
      Six days shalt thou labor and do all that thou art able, / And on the seventh holystone the deck and scrape the cable.