Where does the phrase “plain as a pikestaff” come from and What does it mean?

We use the phrase “plain as a pikestaff” now to mean thoroughly obvious, quite clear; but originally it meant bare and unadorned.

The reference was to the metal shod staff or walking stick used by pilgrims or foot travelers during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

That staff was for service, rather than for show, and was polished plain and smooth through use.

In some localities, the expression was “plain as a packstaff,” with reference to the equally smooth staff on which a peddler carried his pack. Both phrases are found at about the same time in early sixteenth century literature.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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