late 14c. as a term of reproach for a corrupt or lax prelate, from the Roman surname, especially that of Pontius Pilate, a governor of the Roman province of Judaea under Tiberius, from Latin Pilatus, literally "armed with javelins," from pilum "javelin" (see pile (n.2)).
Other than having presided over the trial of Jesus and ordering his crucifixion, little is known of him. In Middle English pilates vois was "a loud, boastful voice," of the sort used by Pilate in the mystery plays. Among slang and cant uses of Pontius Pilate mentioned in the 1811 "Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit and Pickpocket Eloquence" is "(Cambridge) a Mr. Shepherd of Trinity College; who disputing with a brother parson on the comparative rapidity with which they read the liturgy, offered to give him as far as Pontius Pilate in the Belief."
updated on June 08, 2020