Oxford Living Dictionaries' dictionary of North American English defines broomstick as :

1 The long handle of a broom.
1.1 A brush with twigs at one end and a long handle, on which, in children's literature, witches are said to fly.

There are other tools with long handles which do not get a dedicated name: shovelstick, rakestick, etc. Moreover, a broom without a stick is a brush, so the differentiation seems unnecessary. Why did the handle of a broom get its own name when so many other tools didn't?

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    Without broomsticks there would be nothing for witches to ride!
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 3:51
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    (Actually, it's at least in part because a broomstick without the "brush" is still a useful thing.)
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 3:52

2 Answers 2


Evidently, the English word broom originally referred to a type of plant that people used to supply the working end of a sweeping device. Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) treats the definition involving the plant as older than the definition involving the implement:

broom n {M[iddle] E[nglish] fr[om] O[ld] E[nglish] brōm; akin to O[ld] H[igh] G[erman] brāmo bramble} (bef[ore] 12[th] c[entury]) 1 : any of various leguminous shrubs (esp. genera Cytisus and Genisia) with long slender branches, small leaves, and usu. showy yellow flower; esp : SCOTCH BROOM 2 : a bundle of firm stiff twigs or fibers bound together on a long handle esp. for sweeping.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live, scotch broom grows wild in the hills and parklands round about, having been introduced (and having escaped cultivation) many decades ago—and I can tell you that a bunch of its strong, flexible twigs bound to a study wooden stick would make a formidable tool for sweeping.

In the old days, I imagine, broomsticks tended to last longer than broom twigs, and so had a household identity of their own. But we do have comparable terms for the sticks associated with rakes (rake handle or rake pole), shovels (shovel handle or shovel shaft), and axes (ax handle or ax haft), for example, so the implication of the original question that broomstick is unique among hand tools does not survive serious scrutiny. We might as well ask, "Why do we have ax handles, shovel handles, and rake handles but not broom handles?" (Of course, broomsticks are sometimes called broom handles, so that question is problematic, too.)

Undeniably, people sometimes talk about a witch riding on a "broomstick" even though what they have in mind is a witch riding on a complete broom—stick and twigs or fibers. But the Eleventh Collegiate doesn't endorse that meaning of broomstick. Instead it offers this brief definition:

broomstick n (1663) : the long thin handle of a broom

It follows that, as far as Merriam-Webster is concerned, when people refer to a witch riding on a broomstick, they are describing a witch riding on the long thin handle or pole by itself, with no twigs attached. Otherwise, the witch would be riding on a broom, not merely a broomstick.

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    I'm not sure I agree with the logic of the last paragraph--if we say that someone is riding on horseback, it doesn't mean that they are riding on a horse's back with no other parts of the horse attached. (Or if we say someone is in the driver's seat, it doesn't mean that they aren't also in the rest of the car.) The cited definition seems compatible with using the word broomstick to refer to a particular part of a complete broom. (Although maybe the use of the indefinite article in phrases like "riding on a broomstick" makes a difference?)
    – herisson
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 9:32
  • I had a memory... of a past life ‘riding a broomstick’ - not like Harry Potter though - a rope strung over the rafters and tied to either end of a broomstick was something that witches would swing on - causing an altered state of consciousness, allowing the swinger to access other dimensions and to get in touch with their own wisdom and intuition. Without the broom on, yes.
    – Jelila
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 12:09
  • @sumelic: I'm not sure I agree with the last paragraph of my answer either. But as you note in the parenthetical last sentence of your comment, the indefinite article may fundamentally divide the syntactical sense (and effective meaning) of "ride on a broomstick" from that of "ride on horseback." Unquestionably, English is idiomatically strict in disapproving of "riding on a horseback" and of "riding on broomstick"—although I have heard "travel by broomstick," similarly to "travel by car," "travel by train," etc.—and Ngram shows matches for both "travel by horse" and "travel by horseback."
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 17:01

"... a broom without a stick is a brush ..." -- that's a sweeping statement -- wrong.

A broom without a stick is the broom in fact.

The stick is only an appendage/ accessory. Sometimes the whole is called by the name of a part as in this case. Strictly speaking, a broomstick should be only the stick that is attached to a broom, not the whole implement, which of course, is not the case here.

broom (ODOL)

1 A long-handled brush of bristles or twigs, used for sweeping.

broomstick (plural broomsticks) (wiktionary)

  1. the handle of a broom (sweeping tool).
  2. a broom imbued with magic, enabling one to fly astride the handle.

Note the usage difference.

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