Posts Tagged ‘felonious pogonotomy’

It’s not often that local news goes national but the bizarre case of an Amish gang performing an illegal shaving of a bishop certainly had the element needed to catch the eyes of the national media. If one of the Amish had been a woman and naked, the impact could have been global! [1]

Apparently, a group of Amish dissidents, led by one Samuel Mullet, [2] took it upon themselves to dish out some rough justice against a local bishop in retaliation for his shunning member of another Amish family. Shunning is a serious business among the Amish – as is growing beards. Now, in New York or LA, your typical gang would probably just bust a cap on someone’s ass and dump the body on a freeway. However, all that’s needed from your Amish attackers is a pair of scissors and a few extra hands to hold the victim down. Snip, snip, snip, and the beard is off.

The Bergholz Gang

The Bergholz Gang

The incident was the hot topic of the water cooler, especially among my bearded colleagues, but one question was more difficult to answer immediately: Did this type of crime actually have a name? Burn down a barn, it’s arson; steal from someone’s house, it’s burglary; steal money from a pension fund, it’s embezzlement; but cut off someone’s beard, and it’s… well, what?

The act of removing a beard does have a name; pogonotomy. This comes from the Greek pogon (πώγων), meaning “beard,” and the suffix –tomy, (Greek τομία), which is used to create abstract nouns related to the notion of “cutting.” Tέμνειν means “to cut” and is seen in other words, usually medical, like lobotomy, the cutting of the pre-frontal lobes of the brain; tracheotomy, cutting a hole in the trachea; and zootomy, the dissection of animals.

Pogonotomy - shaving

Pogonotomy makes its first recorded appearance in the Los Angeles Times of 1896, on December 27th, where we find;

Pogonotomy is what the Greeks used to call the gentle art of self-shaving.

So although this is the removal of a beard, it’s not the criminal removing of a beard.

Almost 100 years earlier, in 1788, the English essayist Vicesimus Knox published a book entitled Winter Evenings: Or Lucubrations[1] on Life and Lessons. In it, he humorously notes that, “It would not be surprising to see a barber style himself… Pogonologist.”

The idea that someone might actually devote time to studying beards was mentioned just a couple of years earlier that Knox’s book, the OED cite a source that reads, “Pogonologia, or a philosophical essay on beards, translated from the French.”

Incidentally, the pogo stick, a child’s toy that is essential a pole with a spring that you can stand on and jump, comes from a different source – or indeed sources. One suggestion is that it comes from 1920 and the names of two German patent holders for a “spring end hopping stilt” who were called Max Pohlig and Ernst Gottschall. Another is that it is the name of a Burmese girl called Pogo, who had no transportation to let he visit her father, so she created a stick with springs that she could ride to meet him.

This latter one just sounds too good to be true and to my mind, the former has more credence.

It is, however, worth speculating that the device is a pole that goes somewhere, and using those first two syllables to create a new word seems plausible. I’ll offer it as a possibility and remain open to new suggestions.

None of this, though, gets us to an actual word for the crime itself, namely the forced removal of someone’s beard.

Fortunately, the FBI offers us a possibility based on its definition of the more general crime of a “felonious assault.” This is;

…the unlawful attack or attempt to attack through force or violence to cause physical injury to another.

When four guys pin a bishop to the floor and shear off his whiskers, that sounds pretty much like a good example of a felonious assault. I therefore suggest that to be very specific, we should use the term “felonious pogonotomy” to describe the criminal act of removing a beard by force. I did do a search using Google and found precisely zero examples of the phrase. This makes “felonious pogonotomy” not only a new coinage but a hapax legomenon, a one-off use of a word in a text.

So next time you come across a case of felonious pogonotomy, please let me know; I’d love to think that I’d made a significant contribution to the legal field.

[1] Update Nov. 28th. Since writing this, the incident has gone global, with newspapers as far away as Australia reporting on the antics of the Bergholz Gang.

[2] A hair crime by someone called mullet is just so deliciously appropriate and obvious that I resisted the temptation to go off at a tangent and make fun of the name. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel… all too easy!

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