Historical Word Trivia

Orlan Smith shares with us the origins and original meanings of words that may have fallen into disuse or have been redefined over time.



Mob violence is probably as old as mankind, but the American name for it is comparatively youthful. Two centuries ago, more or less, Captain William Lynch cut a wide swath through parts of Virginia. As magistrate of a kangaroo court, he heard brief testimony and then sentenced several Pennsylvania County ruffians to hang.

Lynch might have been forgotten had not his exploits come to the attention of a literary giant. Writing in the Southern Literary Messenger, Edgar Allen Poe described the Virginia cleanup of crime as a lynching. He even published what he said was a part drawn up by Captain Lynch’s band.

The lasting influence of a famous writer caused mob violence to be known as lynching, and lynch law designates the reasoning by which mob members arrive at a verdict.

Respectfully Submitted by

Orlan Smith