Mannaia, Hagoday.

Graywyvern has been reading The Ring and the Book and thought I’d be interested in the oft-mentioned Mannaia (“Esteems it nobler to die honored man/ Beneath Mannaia”; “at the worst, what’s worse/ Than this Mannaia-machine”; “Two gallows, and Mannaia crowning all”; etc.). It’s glossed “guillotine” in graywyvern’s edition, but apparently that’s a special use of a more general Lombard word meaning ‘large knife requiring two hands to wield it’ [it’s standard Italian for a cleaver, as Giacomo Ponzetto says in the comments] — it’s from Vulgar Latin manuaria, derived from manus ‘hand.’ I can see why Browning found it attractive, and I really have to read The Ring and the Book one of these days.

An even more mysterious word is hagoday, said to mean ‘sanctuary knocker‘ (Ronald Sheridan and Anne Ross, Grotesques and Gargoyles: Paganism in the Medieval Church [1975]: “The hagoday, the sanctuary knocker, comprises a large escutcheon of bronze decorated with the head of some monstrous beast…”); it gets a fair number of Google Books hits (e.g., William Wood Seymour, The Cross in Tradition, History, and Art [1898], “Here was the knocker ‘hagoday,’ of which the fugitive laid hold”), but it’s not in any dictionary I have access to — anybody know anything about it?


  1. The OED has haggaday (also haginday, haguday, hagady), first attested in 1396 as havegooday. It is defined as “a kind of door-latch” though the citations seem to refer to various pieces of door furniture. The Middle English Dictionary has hagodai, “a ring forming the handle for raising the latch on a door”, with examples back to 1353 and etymology (“From haven v. (var. ha) & gọ̄d dai 3”). The appearance of havegoodday in Anglo-Norman is discussed here.

  2. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    Mannaia is standard Italian for a cleaver, as Google Images will quickly confirm, even if sticklers on Wikipedia seem to be fighting a lost battle to insist on a diminutive. Apparently the term can also refer to some kind of axe, though I’m not sure if there’s a technicals consensus over when an axe is an ascia, or a scure, or an accetta instead — my ignorance of tools is great and they’re all axes to me.

    The meaning of “heading axe” may have been the first or the most important historically. It comes first in dictionaries and underpins figurative usage, which is quite common. However, it is dormant in non-figurative terms. If you read in the news that someone was assaulted with a mannaia it’s certainly a cleaver and not a heading axe, which nobody possesses to begin with. The extension to a guillotine blade is “uncommon” according to the Treccani dictionary.

    What the old and amateurish Pianigiani (1907) etymological dictionary is marking as Lombard dialect isn’t the word but the spelling “manara.”

  3. Ah, thanks — I’ll correct the post.

    The OED has haggaday (also haginday, haguday, hagady)

    Curses, foiled by too alternative a spelling!

  4. The OED recently revised haggaday, September 2021 (in a batch of “hag-” words). They now record the spelling hagoday, which wasn’t included in the old edition, so it’s now possible to type hagoday into the Quick Search box and find the headword immediately. “Apparently < have good day at good day n. 1, although if so the semantic motivation is unclear.”

    Also, the spelling hagoday and the sense “sanctuary knocker” now get their own separate sense, developed only in the 19th century: “There seems to be no evidence that this is an original, early name for a sanctuary knocker. This use most likely arose in the 19th cent. through confusion of the ring used to open and close a latched door (sense 1) with the sanctuary ring knockers seen at Durham Cathedral and other churches.”

    And thanks to Ian for the link to the Anglo-Norman blog. That’s an excellent story of lexicographers at work.

  5. I came to your very interesting site through researching a Northamptonshire family, The Haggadys, or Haggadays of Lamport, and wondering how their name originated. No idea whether it’s anything to do with a door latch, but I enjoyed reading your definition.

  6. Glad you found it, and if you find out anything about the name, please report back!

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