Home » Languages » English (Sr. Secondary) » Meaning of “Plain as a Pikestaff” phrase of Idiom, definition and synonyms use in sentence.

Meaning of “Plain as a Pikestaff” phrase of Idiom, definition and synonyms use in sentence.

Plain as a Pikestaff

“A new game . . . that has no policie nor knaverie, but plaine as a pike-staffe.” -ROBERT GREENE: A Notable Discovery of Coosnage (1591).

That is: no hidden, double meaning; but plain, honest, straightforward dealing.

Centuries ago, “packmen,” or pedlars of cotton, linen, and woollen cloths, tramped from town to country with their bundles. They carried a staff, which was an aid in walking and a support for their heavy packs when resting. As these staffs were not used otherwise, say, as fashionable walking-sticks of elaborate design, they were made quite plain. Hence, a pedlar might say: “As plain as my packstaff,” meaning: as clear as simple words can make it, without any flowery speech which might hide its real: significance. “As plain as a packstaff” was, indeed, popular in the early 16th century; as in Becon’s Harp of David (ii42.); while, fifty-five years later, Bishop Hall is quite emphatic in its use :—

Not Riddle-Like, Obscuring Their Intent;

But Pack Staffe Plain, Uttering What They Meant.

It has been assumed that “pikestaff” is a alter corruption from “packstaff,” due to faulty pronunciation The suggestion is rather the contrary; for, almost two centuries before, the author of the poem: The Vision of Piers the Plowman, twice uses the word “pikestaff.” In Passus V o “B” text the poet makes the repentant Robert the robber bemoan his inability to restore some stolen property:

With both his eyes water, I wot well, he wept,

And acknowledged, moreover, his crimes unto Christ

Till Penitence, his pikestaff, was polished anew,

To leap with o’er land while his life should endure.

Which means, he would be a pilgrim for the rest of his days. Skeat explains a “pikestaff” as a staff shod with an iron spike, and used by pilgrims to holy places. If it was usual to “polish” these (s)pikestaffs, that is, make them smooth, to give less friction on the hand, this may be the reason for their being called “plain.”


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