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axe (n.)

"edged instrument for hewing timber and chopping wood," also a battle weapon, Old English ces (Northumbrian acas) "axe, pickaxe, hatchet," later x, from Proto-Germanic *akusjo (source also of Old Saxon accus, Old Norse ex, Old Frisian axe, German Axt, Gothic aqizi), from PIE *agw(e)si- "axe" (source also of Greek axine, Latin ascia).

The spelling ax is better on every ground, of etymology, phonology, and analogy, than axe, which became prevalent during the 19th century; but it is now disused in Britain. [OED]
The spelling ax, though "better on every ground, of etymology, phonology, & analogy" (OED), is so strange to 20th-c. eyes that it suggests pedantry & is unlikely to be restored. [Fowler] 

Meaning "musical instrument" is 1955, originally jazz slang for the saxophone; rock slang for "guitar" dates to 1967. To have an axe to grind is from a Sept. 7, 1810, essay in the Luzerne (Pennsylvania) "Gleaner" by U.S. editor and politician Charles Miner (1780-1865) in which a man flatters a boy and gets him to do the chore of axe-grinding for him, then leaves without offering thanks or recompense. It was published in a collection in 1815 titled "Essays From the Desk of Poor Robert the Scribe." The story ("Who'll Turn the Grindstone?") has been misattributed since late 19c. to Benjamin Franklin, a mistake continued in Weekley, OED print edition, "Century Dictionary," and many other sources (Bartlett's "Familiar Quotations" has gotten it right since 1870).

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axe (v.)
1670s, "to shape or cut with an axe," from axe (n.). Figurative meaning "to remove" (a person, from a position), "severely reduce" (expenses) is recorded by 1922. The axe in figurative sense of cutting of anything (expenses, workers, etc.), especially as a cost-saving measure, is from 1922, probably from the notion of the headman's literal axe (attested from mid-15c.). Related: Axed; axing.
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battle-axe (n.)

also battle-ax, late 14c., weapon of war, from battle (n.) + axe (n.); meaning "formidable woman" is U.S. slang, attested by 1896.

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adze (n.)
also adz, "cutting tool used for dressing timber, resembling an axe but with a curved blade at a right-angle to the handle," 18c. spelling modification of ads, addes, from Middle English adese, adse, from Old English adesa "adze, hatchet," which is of unknown origin. Adze "has been monosyllabic only since the seventeenth century. The word has no cognates, though it resembles the names of the adz and the hammer in many languages" [Liberman, 2008]. Perhaps somehow related to Old French aisse, Latin ascia "axe" (see axe).
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pickaxe (n.)

also pick-axe, "tool used for breaking up and digging ground," especially a pick with a sharp point on one side of the head and a broad blade on the other, early 15c., folk etymology alteration (by influence of axe) of Middle English  picas, pikeis (mid-13c.), via Anglo-French piceis, Old French pocois (11c.) and directly from Medieval Latin picosa "pick," which is related to Latin picus "woodpecker" (see pie (n.2)).

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piolet (n.)

"ice-axe used by Alpine climbers," 1868, from Savoy French piolet "climber's ice-axe" (19c.), diminutive of piolo "axe," which is perhaps from Medieval Latin piola "plane, scraper."

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helve (n.)
Old English helfe, hielfe "handle of an axe" or other tool or weapon, from Proto-Germanic *halbma- (source also of Old Saxon helvi, Middle Dutch helf, Old High German halb "handle of an axe," Old High German helmo "tiller"); related to halter and helm (n.1), from PIE *kelp- "to hold, grasp." In Middle English, to holden the axe bi the helve (c. 1200) meant "to take something by the right end."
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halberd (n.)

medieval weapon (a broad blade with sharp edges, ending in a point and mounted on a long handle), late 15c., from French hallebarde (earlier alabarde, 15c.), from Middle High German halmbarte "broad-axe with handle," from halm "handle" (see helm) + barte "hatchet," from Proto-Germanic *bardoz "beard" (see beard (n.)), also "hatchet, broadax" ("because the actual axe looks like a beard stuck to the wooden handle" - Boutkan). An alternative etymology [Kluge, Darmesteter] traces first element to helm "helmet," making the weapon an axe for smashing helmets. In 15c.-16c. especially the arm of foot-soldiers.

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