JAVELIN, a spear, particularly one light enough to be thrown, a dart. The javelin was often provided with a thong to help in casting (see Spear). Javelin-throwing is one of the contests in the athletic section at the international Olympic games. Formerly the sheriff of a county or borough had a body of men armed with javelins, and known as javelin-men, who acted as a bodyguard for the judges when they went on assize. Their duties are now performed by the ordinary police. The word itself is an adaptation of Fr. javeline. There are several words in Celtic and Scandinavian languages and in Old English, meaning a spear or dart, that seem to be connected with javel, the base form in French; thus Welsh gaflach, Irish gabhla, O. Norwegian gaflok, O. E. gafeluc, later in the form gavelock, cf. O. Norman-Fr. gavelot, javelot, Ital. giavelotto. The origin seems to be Celtic, and the word is cognate with Ir. gala, a hook, fork, gaff; the root is seen in "gable" (q.v.), and in the German Gabel, fork. The change in meaning from fork, forked end of a spear, to the spear itself is obscure.
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