What's an intuitive derivation behind ODO's definition that helps to remember its meaning?

to pummel = [with object] 1. Strike repeatedly with the fists
1.1. [North American, informal] Criticize severely:

Etymonline: mid-13c., "ornamental knob;" c.1300, "knob at the end of a sword hilt," from Old French pomel (12c., Modern French pommeau), "rounded knob," diminutive of pom "hilt of a sword," from Late Latin pomellum, diminutive of Latin pomum "apple" (see Pomona), the connecting notion being "roundness." Sense of "front peak of a saddle" first recorded mid-15c. In Middle English poetry it also sometimes meant a woman's breast. The gymnast's pommel horse is attested from 1908.

I recognise 'une pomme' from French but how does 'roundness' induce the current meaning?

  • Hooray, your link doesn't point to leverage! :) I quite like your question too. But I'd say apple refers to the shape of a closed fist.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 14:42
  • treccani.it/vocabolario/pomo look at def. 5
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 15:00
  • I would imagine that the counterbalace ball at the end of a Roman sword was roughly the size and shape of a Roman dessert apple. Apples, particularly cooking apples, have become larger in more recent times but without modern selective breeding and cultivation techniques they tend to revert to around 50 to 75 mm in diameter.
    – BoldBen
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 12:01

2 Answers 2


Visually quite obvious.

Pummel someone with the (apple shaped) ornamental knob at the end of your sword.


Albion Talhoffer Medieval Sword (pommel)

source: WikiMedia

A standard movement in infighting

(source: aemma.org)

Because my sword has received a hit and because of my grab, I'll hit your face with my pommel.

source: The Sign of the Sword


The Etymonline entry that you cite is for pommel, the noun meaning "the ball at the end of a sword". Pummel, the verb, appears to mean to strike with, or as with, a pommel.

Johnson's A dictionary of the English Language of 1768 has an entry for pummel, but only as a variant of pommel (as a noun). It defines pommel both as a noun, and as the verb we now know as pummel:

To POMMEL: To beat black and blue; to bruise; to punch.


And Johnson and Walker's Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1828, has the following:

To POMMEL: To beat with anything thick or bulky; to bruise; to punch.

(Entry; emphasis added)

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