AskDefine | Define stocks

Dictionary Definition

stocks n : a wooden instrument of punishment on a post with holes for the neck and hands; offenders were locked in and so exposed to public scorn [syn: pillory]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Plural of stock.
  2. (plural) A device, similar to a pillory, formerly used for public humiliation and punishment.


device for public humiliation and punishment


  1. Third-person singular present tense of the verb to stock.

Extensive Definition

Stocks are devices used since medieval times for public humiliation, corporal punishment, and torture. The stocks are similar to the pillory and the pranger, as each consists of large, hinged, wooden boards; the difference, however, is that when a person is placed in the stocks, their feet are locked in place, and sometimes as well their hands or head, or these may be chained. Also, some versions have small strings to hold the toes in place. The victim is in a sitting position.
With stocks, boards are placed around the legs or the wrists, whereas in the pillory they are placed around the arms and neck and fixed to a pole, and the victim stands. However, the terms can be confused, and many people refer to the pillory as the stocks.
The practice of using stocks continues to be cited as an example of cruel and unusual punishment.

Historical uses

The stocks were popular in medieval times as a mild restraining device for minor offenders. In the stocks, an offender's hands and head, or sometimes their ankles would be placed and locked through two or three holes in the center of a board. Either before or after this the wrongdoer might have his or her footwear removed, exposing their bare feet. Exhibiting an offender's bare feet was considered a form of humiliation. Offenders were forced to carry out their punishments in the rain, during the heat of summer, or in freezing weather, and generally would receive only bread and water, plus anything brought by their friends.
Public stocks were typically positioned in the most public place available, as public humiliation was a critical aspect of such punishment. Typically, a person condemned to the stocks was subjected to a variety of abuses, ranging from having refuse thrown at them, paddling, and tickling, to whipping and roasting of the unprotected, extremely sensitive bare feet, a now illegal action called bastinado.
The stocks were used in Elizabethan England, and by the Puritans in the colonial period of American history. Their last recorded use in the United Kingdom was in 1872 at Adpar, west Wales
Finger pillories often went by the name of finger stocks
Stocks were also used as punishment for military deserters, or for dereliction of military duty.

Current uses

The stocks have also taken on a lighter image, as they are often found at Renaissance Fairs where the public can experience a form of "stocks entertainment" by watching actors locked in the stocks.


An excellent example of stocks can be seen in Dromore, County Down, in Northern Ireland.


stocks in Danish: Gabestok
stocks in German: Stock (Fessel)
stocks in Icelandic: Gapastokkur
stocks in Polish: Dyby
stocks in Finnish: Jalkapuu

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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