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I have learnt that the word "glaive" originally meant a sword and became a polearm sometimes later. But in modern day games and fantasy fiction, sometimes it refers to a frisbee-sized shuriken.

What was the origin of this meaning?

Those disc shape always scatter around in Google image along with polearms and sword:

enter image description here

  • Can you provide an authoritative example? Games etc often purloin words and foist new senses on them. This doesn't guarantee that the new sense is standard English. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 21 '17 at 16:27
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    @EdwinAshworth: I think nonstandard English is also on-topic – sumelic Aug 21 '17 at 17:09
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    @sumelic Then we rapidly get to the point where any nonce usage, any whimsical coinage becomes on-topic. 'This was used in the 428th issue of 'Batman' Comics' / 'We used this pet term in a lab where I once worked'.... I'd hope that ELU is more focused on words and constructions listed in reputable reference works. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 21 '17 at 20:21
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    @EdwinAshworth I think the border is fuzzy, nor bright. One-off nonces, definitely not; established words in the OED, definitely sure. In the middle.. various shades of gray. But this particular word has a 30+ year history and made an appearance in multiple independent works in a new medium, games. It's quintessential "emerging language". And emerging language is some of the most fascinating material for linguists. A decade or two more, and we would probably not be able to trace its ultimate origins; we got lucky enough to catch the butterfly emerging from its chrysalis this time! Great Q. – Dan Bron Aug 21 '17 at 20:40
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    @EdwinAshworth By the time it's crystallized enough to make it into a dictionary, it's not longer "emerging language", it's "established language", by definition. And likely the dictionary will also provide as good an etymology as will be had, which means it would likely be "general reference" here on ELU: we'd be robbed of an interesting question (and we're low enough on those already). If you follow linguistic publications like LanguageLog, etc, you'll see they devote a lot of attention and focus on new and emerging language, like "pwned", with zeal. I wish ELU to be more like LanguageLog. – Dan Bron Aug 21 '17 at 20:48
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Origins

It's almost certainly from the 1983 campy-classic movie Krull:

movie poster for *Krull*

Look more closely at the title art:

close-up of title art from movie poster, featuring *the Glaive* slashing through the word "Krull"

There, on the right, you see it? The movie featured the five-bladed throwing weapon the Glaive as a key plot element

still from *Krull* showing protagonist exhibiting ***the Glaive***

Influence on gaming

The movie was an action/adventure fantasy film, and the Glaive was central to its plot, in allowing the hero to overcome the forces of evil. It premiered in 1983, just as video games, playable at home, were emerging as a field.

The movie has somewhat of a cult-classic (though campy) status and following, and I have no doubt it influenced the late-80s / early-90s game developers, who in turn passed it along to later generations of games.

Early games featuring Krull-style "glaives"

The first game to feature a Krull-style throwing weapon called a glaive is the video game adaptation of the movie itself, also titled Krull, launched in 1983 on the Atari 2600 platform (though originally planned for the 5200):

cover art for the Atari game *Krull*

And here's the original video game glaive, in all its 8-bit glory, ricocheting around the arena, tearing through enemies:

screenshot from Atari *Krull* featuring an 8-bit *glaive*

Outside the Krull franchise, @Walt found a listing of games including glaives in the "frisbee of death" sense on GiantBomb.com. Filtering the list down to those games are confirmed to include a "frisbee of death" and which explicitly name the weapon a glaive gives the following chronology:

  • 1991, Spider Man: The Videogame. Use of the specific term glaive confirmed by this 1991 third-party guide to the game (see §4.1, search for "Green Goon with Glaive"). This is earliest post-Krull game I could find which includes the Krull weapon with the name glaive:
    screenshot of *Spider Man: The Videogame* with the Green Goon and his Glaive

  • 2002, Warcraft III, PC. As detailed in @user_nulls' excellent answer. And as @user_null points out, its appearance in this game directly led where you yourself encountered it, in DotA2. The overwhelming popularity of these games probably led to the word's current renaissance in gaming and why this list appears sparse in the 80s and 90s but really picks up steam post 2002. In other words, Krull invented it, but DotA popularized it.

  • 2002, Blade II, PS2, Xbox. Use of the specific term glaive confirmed by the game's Wikipedia article (see the gameplay section).
  • 2008, darkSector, Xbox 360, PS3, PC. Use of the specific term glaive confirmed by the Wikia article on the game (see the trivia section, which explicitly says "It was inspired by the weapon of the same name from the movie Krull."). Here, the glaive itself is a key plot element again, as it was in Krull (see cover art below).
  • 2014, Warframe, PS4, Xbox ONE, PC. Use of the specific term glaive confirmed by the Wikia article dedicated to that weapon in the game. This game evolved out of darkSector above, and was produced by the same studio.

Of course, it is unlikely that this list is exhaustive, but I think it provides a solid "fossil record" of the word's usage and evolution over time.

In any event, by now, the name "glaive" for this kind of fictional weapon is well-entrenched, and even the cover art seems relatively stable, a badass hero brandishing a wicked-looking sharp frisbee:

cover art for *darkSector*, featuring the protagonist wielding a *glaive*

And thus are new meanings for old words born¹.

But why did Krull call this weapon the Glaive?

Of course, the next obvious question is "Why did the Krull screenwriters² choose the name the Glaive for this particular weapon?". Of course, it may not be anything deeper than the "Rule of Cool". This wasn't a historical documentary, it was an action-adventure fantasy film, where pizzaz has higher priority than etymology.

But, as @R Mac plausibly suggests in the comments:

This is undoubtedly the origin of the meaning of the word as it is used in video games today. But it's funny, this is was probably not the meaning intended by the film itself. In Old French, where the word glaive referred to most any kind of shafted weapon, the word carried a second meaning: it was used figuratively to describe the kind of destruction such a weapon imparts, specifically violent death. This was probably the meaning employed by Krull. Funny how language comes full circle to today use the word to describe a different class of weapon.

This is an accurate statement of the French etymology of glaive. See, for example, the etymology offered in The Littré, which says:

Glaive avait généralement le sens de lance, comme étant l'arme par excellence des chevaliers, et, figurément, le sens de carnage.

Which, translated, says:

Glaive generally had the meaning of spear, as the weapon par excellence of knights, and, figuratively, the meaning of carnage.

Ultimately, we may never know why the screenwriters chose to name this weapon the Glaive. But, perhaps, we can take some comfort in the fact that the choice has bugged nerds like us literally since the movie was first released.

From Starlog Magazine, issue 076, dated November 1983, we see this review from Lawrence Watt-Evans on page 74:

reproduction of page 74 of Starlog 076

It reads:

Incidentally, one gripe I do have is that the whirligig gadget that Colwyn uses, however nifty it may be, is not a glaive. A glaive is a sort of pole-arm, a long stick with a long blade on the end. The word comes from the Latin gladius, meaning "short sword," and although it can be argued that it's a pretty vague term, since a short sword certainly isn't a pole-arm, by no stretch of the imagination does a glaive look like a brass starfish. Of course, there's no word for the thing, but the writer should have made one up rather than borrowing one which doesn't fit.

I guess words change, but nerds stay the same.


Note GiantBomb's list appears somewhat unreliable, and to have been compiled by users looking for the word "glaive" in works' documentation, as opposed to the subject matter expertise of players who know for a fact the game contains a "death frisbee". The list contains both Angband, a 1990 roguelike, which has a glaive but it's a polearm (and a similar situation for the 2004 Predator: Concrete Jungle), and the 1998 Turok 2: Seeds of Evil, which has a death frisbee but it's not named (in-game) a glaive.

¹ To develop an appreciation for the challenges facing professional etymologists, I'll note that the only reason I was able to post this answer was because I remembered seeing Krull as a kid, and the moment when the hero sticks his hands in lava to retrieve the weapon for the first time stuck in my mind for some reason.

When I first read your question I actually didn't know what you meant when you said video games call large shuriken glaives; I'm not much of a gamer and I'd never seen that usage. But when I read your description of them, I thought "that sounds a lot like that thing the guy from the old fantasy movie pulled out of the lava". I didn't even remember it was called the Glaive; but on reading your question, the resemblance was so sharp, I suspected it.

But I couldn't remember the name of the movie! So you know what was google search that provided the seed for this question?

movie with three-bladed frisbee.

No, I'm not kidding.

² If we want to pursue the investigation into the screenwriter Stanford Sherman's inspiration, one thing place to start is the original script. @Walt has once again come through and found an early draft of the Krull script, which talks about a "silver glaive", which, interestingly, describes it as a four blades (not five as in the released film) arranged in a cross pattern. That "cross" element might provide leads for deeper investigation.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Aug 23 '17 at 22:14
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This was supposed to be a comment for Dan Bron's fine answer, but as a no-rep lurker to this SE, I'll supplement the video game point with another contribution:

Warcraft 3, released July 3rd, 2002, introduced the Night Elf faction to the game world and with it, two more interesting uses of glaives.

First, the Huntress, a tiger-riding ranged unit. One of the unit's skills is a passive explicitly called "Moon Glaive," with icon art like so: MoonGlaive_Icon

This unit gained immense popularity not just as a Warcraft 3 unit, but in a custom map called "DotA" (Defence of the Ancient) where this model was used for the hero, Luna. DotA 2 is a stand-alone offshoot of that custom map released July 9, 2013 and Luna is still one of the most popular heroes, complete with an updated glaive model and still possessing the iconic Huntress skill.

I mention Warcraft specifically, because it also popularized another new kind of glaive, the long, curved blades typically dual-wielded.

Also belonging to the Night Elves, another unit they had were Demon Hunters, like so: DemonHunter

I don't recall if Warcraft 3 explicitly called this a glaive, but one of the most iconic Demon Hunters of the game went on to World of Warcraft raid boss status, where his weapons were an obtainable item called the Warglaives of Azzinoth.

Similar to Luna, these types of glaives went on to the heroes Anti-Mage and Terrorblade in DotA, where they'll undoubtedly influence future heroes in games to come.

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    Actually the first time I know about word "glaive" is from DotA and DotA2 – Thaina Aug 22 '17 at 1:09
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    Don't forget the Elven siege weapon, the Glaive Thrower. – Erik Aug 22 '17 at 7:47
  • Also, the weapon of the Warden looks like it fits too (although I don't think it was explicitly called a glaive within the game itself). – Cubic Aug 22 '17 at 14:24
  • @Cubic I think that would be called chakram if it has a name. It seem not the same design as glaive (ring with blade compare to shuriken) – Thaina Aug 23 '17 at 5:44
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If you search for glaive in google you will find all kinds of video game references. It appears that game developers aren't big on accuracy, or they just think they know things that they don't. Which is pretty common with humans.

I don't think the word "glaive" was used in the move Beastmaster, so I am not sure that counts.

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    So, you have a word. This word is used in many places, meaning the same thing. It's also understood by a large audience to mean that thing. If you think that means the word is wrong, I think you might have a bit of a misunderstanding about how language works. – Cubic Aug 22 '17 at 14:26

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