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?

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

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.

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