from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun A small bell-shaped bomb used to breach a gate or wall.
  • noun A loud firecracker.
  • idiom (be hoist with one's own petard) To be undone by one's own schemes.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun An engine of war used to blow in a door or gate, form a From a breach in a wall, etc.
  • noun A small paper cartridge used in ornamental fireworks, generally at the end of a lance, so arranged that the flame terminates with an explosion.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun (Mil.) A case containing powder to be exploded, esp. a conical or cylindrical case of metal filled with powder and attached to a plank, to be exploded against and break down gates, barricades, drawbridges, etc. It has been superseded.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun historical A small, hat-shaped explosive device, used to blow a hole in a door or wall.
  • noun Anything potentially explosive, in a non-literal sense.
  • noun A loud firecracker.
  • verb archaic To attack or blow a hole in (something) with a petard.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun an explosive device used to break down a gate or wall


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[French pétard, from Old French, from peter, to break wind, from pet, a breaking of wind, from Latin pēditum, from neuter past participle of pēdere, to break wind; see pezd- in Indo-European roots.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Middle French petarder, from petard.


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  • I had to look this up to see if it's a tangible object--apparently it's a bomb, which I did not know--and the phrase "hoist with his own petard" (Shakespeare) means "Blown into the air by his own bomb; hence, injured or destroyed by his own device for the ruin of others." (OED) I had no idea.

    February 8, 2007

  • Wow. And here I was thinking this word was akin to leotard. ;-)

    February 8, 2007

  • When I was growing up, my folks would sometimes say something like, "Looks like so-and-so was hoisted on his own petard." It could be considered poetic justice to be hoisted on one's own petard.

    I did not realize it was yet another phrase from Shakespeare.

    June 17, 2007

  • I associate this word with two things: 1) retard, simply due to the rhyme, and 2) wedgies - I always thought a petard was like a Renaissance garment, and hoisting by one's petard meant being hung up by one's underwear. I know this makes no sense in the actual sense of the phrase (which is analogous to cutting off your nose to spite someone else's face) but I secretly like my definition better.

    September 6, 2008

  • I associate it with The Enterprise.

    September 6, 2008

  • Good grief! And I had no idea either. In my world it was a nickname for the family aardvark.

    September 6, 2008

  • Oh and yes, I know the rhyme's not exact. I don't pronounce it PEE-tard.

    PS skipvia I don't get it, what's The Enterprise ref. I'm thinking of the latest and most horrible Star Trek series - and to me that totally makes sense because I hate Scott Bakula and find him retarded.

    September 6, 2008

  • arby--your reference to being hung up by underwear? Yeah. That's what I thought for many years too. Hee! (glad I wasn't alone...)

    September 6, 2008

  • Curiously, I never made the connection with explosives in the phrase "hoisted with his own petard"; I think I thought it was some kind of sword. This despite the fact that I knew that in Slovene petarda means "firecracker".

    September 6, 2008

  • Underwear! Me too!

    September 6, 2008

  • I actually thought it meant "hoisted by one's underwear on the end of a long pointy thing kind of like a sword but stronger."

    I was rather imaginative.

    September 6, 2008

  • Arby--petard sounds like Picard if you're a bit liberal with the pronunciation.

    September 6, 2008

  • I was taught this phrase in secondary / high school by my English teacher, but I always assumed a petard was something related to the gallows, specifically the crosspiece I suppose.

    September 6, 2008

  • the phrase is "hoist or hoised by his own petard". Not on, not with, but by.

    Petard is an explosive mine; to hoise = to blow up.

    September 6, 2008

  • 'By' is what I thought, jmp, but I wasn't confident enough to comment.

    September 6, 2008

  • thanks for the apt correction, jmp!

    September 6, 2008

  • Looks like it can be stated at least two ways, though "by" is more common these days, it seems to be agreed-upon that Shakespeare originated the phrase, and in Hamlet it's "with." This is from Wikipedia (admittedly not the best source, but my Shakespeare books are all in storage so I can't check the veracity):

    "The word remains in modern usage in the phrase to be hoist by one's own petard (or to be hoist with one's own petard), which means "to be harmed by one's own plan to harm someone else" or "to fall in one's own trap", literally implying that one could be lifted up (hoisted, or blown upward) by one's own bomb. Shakespeare used the now proverbial phrase in Hamlet.

    "In the following passage, the "letters" refer to instructions (written by his uncle Claudius, the King) to be carried sealed to the King of England, by Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the latter being two schoolfellows of Hamlet. The letters, as Hamlet suspects, contain a death warrant against Hamlet, who will later open and modify them to instead request the execution of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Enginer refers to a military engineer, the spelling reflecting Elizabethan stress.

    There's letters seal'd: and my two schoolfellows,

    Whom I will trust as I will adders fang'd,

    They bear the mandate; they must sweep my way

    And marshal me to knavery. Let it work;

    For 'tis the sport to have the enginer

    Hoist with his own petar; and 't shall go hard

    But I will delve one yard below their mines

    And blow them at the moon: O, 'tis most sweet,

    When in one line two crafts directly meet."

    (Hamlet, Act 3, scene iv, 202-209)

    A brief perusal of other sites that quote Shakespeare directly also use "with." Don't make me no nevermind though. Just posting for Wordieternity. :)

    September 7, 2008

  • C_b, did Shakespeare write (in the quotation) "petar"? Or is that a typo (whether yours or Wikipedia's)?

    September 7, 2008

  • That's not a typo as far as I can tell; it appears on a number of other sites in the Shakespeare quotation. (Though as I said, I didn't check any actual books. Of course editors of Shakespeare occasionally change spellings... sigh...)

    September 7, 2008

  • It's not hoisted c_b, it's hoised (or hoist) - p/p/ of hoise

    September 7, 2008

  • Rolig, I checked this book also: More Word Histories and Mysteries, from the editors of the American Heritage Dictionaries, since I had it lying around. It quotes Shakespeare thus:

    "For 'tis the sport to have the enginer

    Hoist with his own petar, an't shall go hard..."

    It also says:

    'The French word pétard has a variety of m eanings, including "firecracker," "detonator for explosives," and also "a sensational or scandalous piece of news." In the past, the word referred to a kind of small bomb used for blasting through the gates of a city, and English borrowed the word in this sense in the middle of the 16th century, when it appears in various spellings, such as petar, pittard, and petard. The word later makes a notable appearance in Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet. .... To be hoist by one's own petard ("to blow oneself up with one's own bomb, be undone by one's own devices") is now a proverbial phrase apparently originating with Shakespeare's play, which dates from around 1604.' (p. 170–171)

    You'll notice that in this book as well, the phrase originated as "hoist with his own petar" and changes to today's more common "hoist by his own petard." Online Etymology Dictionary says "hoist with one's own petar" (or some variant)..." so I don't think that the preposition, the spelling of "petard," or even the verb form of "hoist" is really an issue in the use of the proverbial phrase.

    The book goes on:

    "The French noun pétard is in fact derived from pet, "fart." Pet developed regularly from the Latin noun peditum (which actually has a horiz. line over the e but I can't make that symbol appear), from the Indo-European root *pezd–,, "to fart." Proto-Indo-European had another root meaning "fart," *perd–, the source of the English fart, and the two roots sound strangely like each other."

    Jmp, in your second correction, you seem to be saying that in the original proverbial phrase, the term is "hoist" (which I used correctly):


    1548, probably originally past tense of M.E. hysse (1490), which is probably from M.Du. hyssen "to hoist," related to Low Ger. hissen and O.N. hissa upp "raise." A nautical word found in most European languages, but it is uncertain which had it first. In phrase hoist with one's own petard (see petard) it is originally the past tense."

    (Online Etymology Dictionary)

    "Hoisted," which on this page I used only once, in a modern (joking) comment, is correct in a number of dictionaries, for example:

    "hoist (hoist)

    v. hoist·ed, hoist·ing, hoists

    1. To raise or haul up with or as if with the help of a mechanical apparatus. See Synonyms at lift.

    2. To raise to one's mouth in order to drink: hoist a few beers.


    To become raised or lifted."

    (Free Online Dictionary)

    "VERB: Inflected forms: hoist·ed, hoist·ing, hoists..." (American Heritage)

    More discussion about the verb form of hoist (if anyone's interested) is on the page for hoise.

    September 7, 2008

  • Wow, thanks, c_b, for doing this thorough research. So I guess "hoist by his own petard" is a distant cousin of the saying, "He who smelt it, dealt it"!

    September 7, 2008

  • Indeed! :)

    September 7, 2008

  • My Dad was on a softball team called the Petards. What a mature sense of humor they have!

    September 8, 2008

  • The more I see this word on the front page, the more I think of that episode of Family Guy where Peter is legally declared retarded (their words, not mine). The title of the episode is "Petarded."

    September 8, 2008

  • see pétomane

    September 9, 2008