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Alternative forms[edit]


quarter +‎ staff, attested since about 1550. Probably originally referred to a staff cut from the hardwood of a certain size of tree which was cleft into four parts, per the OED.



quarterstaff (plural quarterstaffs or quarterstaves)

  1. A wooden staff of an approximate length between 2 and 2.5 meters, sometimes tipped with iron, used as a weapon in rural England during the Early Modern period.
    • 1883, Howard Pyle, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood:
      First, several couples stood forth at quarterstaff, and so shrewd were they at the game, and so quickly did they give stroke and parry, that []
  2. Fighting or exercise with the quarterstaff.
    He was very adept at quarterstaff.

Usage notes[edit]

An attestation from 1590 of a quarter Ashe staffe shows that the "quarter" was an apposition and could still be detached (Richard Harvey, Plaine Perceuall the peace-maker of England , cited after the OED). Joseph Swetnam (1615) uses "quarterstaff" in the same sense in which George Silver (1599) had used "short staff", viz. for the staff between about 2 and 2.5 meters in length, as opposed to the "long staff" of a length exceeding 3 meters.

Contemporary use of the word disappears during the 18th century, and beginning with 19th-century Romanticism the word is mostly limited to antiquarian or historical usage.