Online Encyclopedia

PILE

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V21, Page 603 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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PILE, an homonymous word, of which the main branches are (1) a heap, through Fr. from pila, pillar; (2) a heavy beam used in making foundations, literally a pointed stake, an adaptation of Lat. pilum, javelin; (3) the nap on cloth, Lat. pilus, hair. In the first branch the Lat. pila (for pigla, from root of pangere, to fasten) meant also a pier or mole of stone, hence any mass of masonry, as in Fr. pile. In English usage the word chiefly means a " heap " or " mass " of objects laid one on the top of the other, such as the heap of faggots or other combustible material on which a dead body is cremated, " funeral pile," or on which a living person is burnt as a punishment. It also is applied to a large and lofty building, and specifically, to a stand of arms, " piled in military fashion, and to the series of plates, " galvanic " or " voltaic piles," in an electric battery. The modern " head and tail " of a coin was formerly " cross and pile," Fr. croix et pile, in modern Fr. face et pile. In the older apparatus for minting the die for the reverse was placed on a small upright pillar, pile, the other on a puncheon known as a " trussell " (Fr. trousseau). The common name of the disease of haemorrhoids (q.v.) or " piles " is probably an extension of this word, in the sense of mass, swelling, but may be referred to the Lat. pila, ball. The name of the pilum, or heavy javelin (lit. pounder, pestle, from pinsere, pisere, to beat), the chief weapon of the ancient Roman infantry, was adopted into many Teutonic languages in the sense of dart or arrow, cf. Germ. Pfeil; in English it was chiefly used of a heavy stake with one end sharpened, and driven into swampy ground or in the bed of a river to form the first foundations for a building; the primitive lake-dwellings built on " piles " are also known as " pile-dwellings." For the use of piles in building see FOUNDATIONS and BRIDGES. In heraldry a charge represented by two lines meeting in the form of an arrow head is known as a " pile," a direct adaptation probably of the Lat. pilum. The division of this intricate word, followed here, is that adopted by the New English Dictionary; other etymologists (e.g. Skeat, Etym. Diet., 1898) arrange the words and their Latin originals somewhat differently.
End of Article: PILE
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