AskDefine | Define scourge

Dictionary Definition



1 a whip used to inflict punishment (often used for pedantic humor) [syn: flagellum]
2 something causes misery or death; "the bane of my life" [syn: bane, curse, nemesis]
3 a person who inspires fear or dread; "he was the terror of the neighborhood" [syn: terror, threat]


1 punish severely; excoriate
2 whip; "The religious fanatics flagellated themselves" [syn: flagellate]
3 devastate or ravage; "The enemy lay waste to the countryside after the invasion" [syn: lay waste to, waste, devastate, desolate, ravage]

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. A persistent pest, illness, or source of trouble, (figurative) cause of suffering to people.
    Graffiti is the scourge of building owners everywhere.
  2. A whip often of leather.
    He flogged him with a scourge.


a persistent pest, illness, or source of trouble
a whip often of leather
Translations to be checked


  1. To strike with a scourge.

Extensive Definition

A scourge (from Italian scoriada, from Latin excoriare = "to flay" and corium = "skin") is a whip or lash, especially a multi-thong type used to inflict severe corporal punishment or self-mortification on the back


The typical scourge (Latin: flagrum; English: flagellum) has several thongs fastened to a handle; c.f. Scottish tawse (usually two or three leather thongs without a separate handle); cat o' nine tails: naval thick-rope knotted-end scourge, the army and civil prison versions usually are leather.
The scourge, or flail, and the crook, are the two symbols of power and domination depicted in the hands of Osiris in Egyptian monuments; they are the unchanging form of the instrument throughout the ages; though, the flail depicted in Egyptian mythology was an agricultural instrument used to thresh wheat, and not for corporal punishment.
The priests of Cybele scourged themselves and others, and such stripes were considered sacred. From a Biblical quotation, scorpio 'scorpion' is Latin for a Roman flagrum. Hard material was affixed to multiple thongs to give a flesh-tearing 'bite' [1 Kings 12:11: ...My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions]. The name testifies to the pain caused by the arachnid. To its generous Roman application testitfies to the existence of the Latin words Flagrifer 'carrying a whip' and Flagritriba 'often-lashed slave'.
Scourging played a famous role as the punishment inflicted during the Passion on Jesus Christ before crucifixion, disabling him from carrying his cross to Golgotha.
Scourging was the first step in the traditional Roman punishment for parricide.
Scourging was soon adopted as a sanction in the monastic discipline of the fifth and following centuries. Early in the fifth century it is mentioned by Palladius of Galatia in the Historia Lausiaca, and Socrates Scholasticus tells us that, instead of being excommunicated, offending young monks were scourged. (See the sixth-century rules of St. Cæsarius of Arles for nuns, and of St. Aurelian of Arles.) Thenceforth scourging is frequently mentioned in monastic rules and councils as a preservative of discipline. Its use as a punishment was general in the seventh century in all monasteries of the severe Columban rule. Canon law (Decree of Gratian, Decretals of Gregory IX) recognized it as a punishment for ecclesiastics; even as late as the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it appears in ecclesiastical legislation as a punishment for blasphemy, concubinage and simony. Though doubtless at an early date a private means of penance and mortification, such use is publicly exemplified in the tenth and eleventh centuries by the lives of St. Dominic Loricatus and St. Peter Damian (died 1072). The latter wrote a special treatise in praise of self-flagellation; though blamed by some contemporaries for excess of zeal, his example and the high esteem in which he was held did much to popularize the voluntary use of the scourge or "discipline" as a means of mortification and penance. Thenceforth it is met with in most medieval religious orders and associations. The practice was, of course, capable of abuse, and so arose in the thirteenth century the fanatical sect of the Flagellants, though in the same period we meet with the private use of the "discipline" by such saintly persons as King Louis IX of France and Elisabeth of Hungary.

Metaphoric use

Semi-literal usages such as "the scourge of God" for Attila the Hun (i.e. "God's whip to punish the nations with") led to metaphoric uses to mean a severe affliction, e.g. "the scourge of drug abuse". As a result, some people forget its literal meaning and seem to imagine a connection with "scour" -to clean something by scrubbing it vigorously.

Sources and references


scourge in German: Geißel
scourge in Polish: Bicz
scourge in Portuguese: Azorrague
scourge in Swedish: Gissel

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

adversity, afflict, affliction, ambulatory plague, bane, baste, bastinado, beat, belabor, belt, birch, black death, black plague, blacksnake, blister, bubonic plague, buffet, bugbear, bullwhack, bullwhip, burden, calamity, cane, castigate, castigation, cat, cellulocutaneous plague, chastening, chastise, chastisement, club, condign punishment, correction, cowhide, crop, crushing burden, cudgel, curse, cut, death, defervescing plague, depredate, desecrate, deserts, desolate, despoil, destruction, devastate, disciplinary measures, discipline, disease, drub, epidemic, epiphytotic, epizootic, evil, excoriate, ferule, flagellate, flagellum, flail, flay, flog, frail, fustigate, give a whipping, give the stick, glandular plague, grievance, harm, hemorrhagic plague, hide, hit, horsewhip, infliction, judgment, judicial punishment, knout, kurbash, lace, larval plague, lash, lather, lay on, misery, misfortune, murrain, nemesis, open wound, pains, pains and punishments, pandemia, pandemic, pay, payment, penal retribution, penalty, penology, pest, pesthole, pestilence, pillage, pistol-whip, plague, plague spot, pneumonic plague, pommel, premonitory plague, pummel, punish, punishment, punition, quirt, rawhide, razor strap, retribution, retributive justice, running sore, sack, scarify, scathe, scorch, septicemic plague, siderating plague, sjambok, slash, smite, spank, spoliate, strap, stripe, swinge, switch, thong, thorn, thrash, thump, torment, trounce, truncheon, tuberculosis, vexation, visitation, wallop, waste, wear out, well-deserved punishment, whale, what-for, whip, whiplash, white plague, whop, woe
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