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One hot and humid summer day--7 August 1974, to be precise--my father, in a tone of unusual excitation, bellowed for me to join him in our living room where he directed my attention to the television set. On screen, a live video-feed showed a man dressed in black who appeared to be floating on thin air between two skyscrapers, an occurrence I had previously understood to be impossible. Soon it became clear that the young man wasn’t actually floating on thin air, he was standing on thin wire (hey, I’m somewhat credulous!).

That young man was the practitioner of tightrope walking or funambulism, which is the art of walking along a thin wire or rope. It has a long tradition in various countries and is commonly associated with the circus.

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As can be seen in the photograph taken that same summer afternoon, the wire walker, a young Frenchman named Philippe Petit, is holding a flexible pole of fifteen or twenty feet length. A little research revealed that tightrope walkers often use these poles to maintain what is a rather precarious balance. The apparatus distributes mass away from the walker’s pivot point, increasing the moment of inertia and reducing angular acceleration because a greater force is required to rotate the performer over the wire. The result is less tipping. In addition the wire walker can correct sway by rotating the pole, which creates a compensating torque on the body.

Though tightrope walking can claim an enduring and international pedigree, and the balancing pole plays an important part in the success and safety of the tightrope walker's practice, I have been unable to discover a name for the apparatus other than the disappointingly generic and pedestrian, balancing pole.

Does the device have a term of art designation?

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    I haven't been able to find anything other than balancing pole, either. Do you think they really need fancy jargon for it?
    – Barmar
    Jul 29, 2015 at 22:03
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    Balancing pole is the more common definition. Balance pole or bar are also used. books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – user66974
    Jul 29, 2015 at 22:07
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    @James, indeed, I'm a great fan of Mr. Petit and own a copy of the documentary - which is excellent, BTW. Additionally, a new feature film by Robert Zemeckis starring Joseph Gordon-Levit, is scheduled for release this fall. And I can't wait. :-)
    – user98990
    Jul 29, 2015 at 22:16
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    I've written an email, I am a fan. A question dated 2008 from metafilter asks Name that 10-foot pole!. Balance pole seems to be the only answer. However, the Oribat is a person who dances on the rope; the Neurobat is a high wire artist; and the Schoenobat flies down the rope: blondinmemorialtrust.com/funambulus
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 29, 2015 at 23:43
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    In Italian it has two names, the oldest derived from Fr balancier, is bilanciere, the second is asta d’equilibrio (equilibrium pole). I believe statera is "scales" or/and steelyard.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 30, 2015 at 0:26

2 Answers 2

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The Latin for it is statera which also means a 'weighing balance.' I don't know if the balance pole meaning is classical or medieval.

If anyone can reproduce the OED entry they should find something under static and stater.

I think it is a "static pole." But that is probably not current among funambulists. This illustration for the beginning of LIBRA is an elaborate pun on statera from a twelfth Century Calendar.

This picture is from Lansdowne MS 383 BRITISH LIBRARY The shaftesbury psalter created for the queen. 12th century The Benedictine nunnery of St. Edward, Shaftesbury, Dorset:

pun on statera

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    Excellent, Hugh! Thank you very much, I lack the wherewithal to access the OED, too - but I knew it would lead to something, +!
    – user98990
    Jul 30, 2015 at 0:09
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I imagine the most likely term is 'pole'.

"Hand me my pole".

"Where did I leave my pole?"

There is no other kind of pole used in wire-walking so I imagine the word 'balancing' would be superfluous.

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  • Yeah, I get it already chasly. It's just his shtick. ;-)
    – user98990
    Jul 30, 2015 at 0:05

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