I was checking whether biannual meant twice a year or once every two years (short answer: both) when I stumbled upon this example containing the phrase "heading for a poleaxing":


I've never seen poleaxe used outside of a combat or historical context. Is this a common phrase in some parts of the world? If so, what does it mean?

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    In at least some instances, it might mean "heading for a beheading."
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 6:16

3 Answers 3


I wouldn't go so far as to say common, at least in American English, but the phrase does exist. As you alluded to, the verb use comes from the weapon:

to attack, strike, or fell with or as if with a poleax (M-W)

The idiomatic use may be more common in British English, judging by it having a special entry in the Collins Dictionary:

If someone is pole-axed, they are so surprised or shocked that they do not know what to say or do. [mainly British, informal]

As Ngram shows, the adjective poleaxed is significantly more common than the infinitive usage.


A poleaxe is a weapon, resembling a stout stave with an axe head and spike incorporated; in common use during the 15th. century. It was also used to slaughter large animals. The term "poleaxing" was adapted and carried forward in modern parlance, as a description of someone's sudden incapacitation "he dropped, as though poleaxed".

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    – Community Bot
    Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 17:00

In your example "poleaxing" is a typical journalistic pun that works because it is about a politician hoping to be elected at the polls.

Pole - homonym - poll as in elections

to axe = to be cut down with an axe.

A poleaxe is an ancient military weapon*. It also appears in the phrase "He went down like a poleaxed ox" = He collapsed like an ox collapses when hit with a poleaxe.

"heading for a poleaxing" will be slaughtered/defeated heavily at the polls.


Poleaxe: (n.)

  1. (a) Originally: a weapon for use in close combat, existing in various forms but generally having a head consisting of an axe blade or hammer-head, balanced at the rear by a pointed fluke. Later also: any of various long-handled weapons of this type, as carried (now only ceremonially) by the bodyguard of a monarch or great personage.)


1. transitive. To fell, kill, or stun (an animal) with a blow from a poleaxe.

The etymology of poleaxe is obscure but a fair bet is that the "Pole" part of it refers to the Old English "pol" meaning "head" - i.e. "designed to split open a head."

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