"The name of the machine in which the axe descends in grooves from a considerable height so that the stroke is certain and the head instantly severed from the body." ["Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure," January 1793], 1791, from French guillotine, named in recognition of French physician Joseph Guillotin (1738-1814), who as deputy to the National Assembly (1789) proposed, for humanitarian and efficiency reasons, that capital punishment be carried out by beheading quickly and cleanly on a machine, which was built in 1791 and first used the next year. Similar devices were used in the Middle Ages. The verb is first attested 1794. Related: Guillotined; guillotining.