Dagger - Encyclopedia

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DAGGER, a hand weapon with a short blade. The derivation is obscure (cf. Fr. dague and Ger. Degen), but the word is related to dag, a long pointed jag such as would be made in deeply nicking the edge of a garment. The war knife in various forms and under many names has of course been in use in all ages and amongst all races. But the dagger as generally understood was not a short sword, but a special stabbing weapon which could be used along with the sword. The distinction is often difficult to establish in a given case owing to the variations in the length of the weapon. The principal medieval dagger was the misericorde, which from the end of the 12th century was used, in all countries in which chivalry flourished, to penetrate the joints of the armour of an unhorsed adversary (hence Ger. Panzerbrecher, armour-breaker). It was so called either because the threat of it caused the vanquished to surrender "at mercy," or from its use in giving what was called the coup de grace. From about 1330 till the end of the succeeding century, in many knightly effigies it is often represented as attached on the right side by a cord or a chain to the sword-belt. This weapon and its sheath were often elaborately adorned. It was customary to secure it from accidental loss by a guard-chain fastened to the breastarmour. Occasionally the misericorde was fixed to the bodyarmour by a staple; or, more rarely, it was connected with a gypciere or pouch. The misericorde may be called a poniard. The distinction between the dagger and the poniard is arbitrary, and in ordinary language the latter is taken as being the shorter and as having less resemblance to a short sword or cutlass. A weapon, with a longer blade than the misericorde, was habitually worn by civilians, including judges, during the middle ages; such weapons bore the name of anlace (from annulus, as it was fastened by a ring), basilarde or langue de bceuf, the last from the broad ox-tongue shape of the blade. This had often a small knife fixed on the scabbard, like a Highland officer's dirk of the present day. By nobles and knights the dagger or poniard was worn when they had exchanged their armour for the costume of peace. It is recorded besides that when they appeared at a tournament and on some other occasions, ladies at that time wore daggers depending, with their gypcieres, from their girdles. Thus, writing of the year 1348, Knighton speaks of certain ladies who were present at jousts as "habentes cultellos, quos daggerios vulgariter dicunt, in powchiis desuper impositis." A longer and heavier dagger with a broad blade (Italian) is called cinquedea. The Scottish "dirk" was a long dagger, and survives in name in the dirk worn by midshipmen of the royal navy, and in fact in that worn by officers of Highland regiments. In the 15th and 16th centuries the infantry soldiers (Swiss or landsknecht) carried a heavy poniard or dagger. This and the earlier Spanish dagger with a thumb-ring were distinctively the weapons of professional soldiers. The rise of duelling produced another type, called the main gauche, which was a parrying weapon and often had a toothed edge on which the adversary's sword was caught and broken. One form of this dagger had a blade which expanded into a triple fork on pressing a spring; this served the same purpose. The satellites of the Vehmgericht had a similar weapon, in order, it is suggested, that their acts should be done in the name of the Trinity. The smaller poniards are generally called "stilettos." Much ingenuity and skill have been lavished on the adornment of daggers, and in rendering the blades more capable of inflicting severe wounds. Daggers also were sometimes made to poison as well as to wound. Of oriental daggers may be mentioned the Malay "crease " or "kris," which has a long waxed blade; the Gurkha "kukri," a short curved knife, broadest and heaviest towards the point; and the Hindu "khuttar," which has a flat triangular-shaped blade, and a hilt of H-shape, the cross-bar forming the grip and the sides the guard.

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