AskDefine | Define gavel

Dictionary Definition

gavel n : a small mallet used by a presiding officer or a judge

User Contributed Dictionary





  1. A wooden mallet, used by a judge in a courtroom, or a chairman of a committee, struck against a sounding block to quiet the rabble down.
  2. The legal system as a whole.


wooden mallet


  1. To use a gavel.
    The judge gavelled for order in the courtroom after the defendent burst out with a confession.


To use a gavel



  1. gable, a short wall of a building

Extensive Definition

A gavel is a small ceremonial mallet commonly made of hardwood, typically fashioned with a handle and often struck against a sound block to enhance its sounding qualities. It is a symbol of the presiding officer's authority and right to act officially in his capacity, rather, the chair should give one vigorous tap at a time at intervals.
Demeter's Manual notes that, in addition to an optional light tap after a vote, there are three other uses of a gavel:
  1. To attract attention and call a meeting to order. In most organizations, two raps raise and one rap seats the assembly; in others, two raps raise and three raps seats it.
  2. To maintain order and restore it when breached in the course of the proceedings. (Rap the gavel once, but vigorously.)
  3. To be handed over to successors in office or to officiating officers as ceremonials, etc. (Always extend the holding end.)

Historic gavels

A special gavel, made of solid ivory and held together since 1952 by silver caps, had been used by the United States Senate since that body's inception in 1789. In 1954, Vice President Richard Nixon, while acting as presiding officer of the Senate, splintered the gavel during a heated debate on nuclear energy. Unable to obtain a piece of ivory large enough to replace the gavel, the Senate appealed to the Indian embassy. On November 17, 1954 India presented the US with a solid ivory replica, which is still in use. In contrast, the gavel of the U.S. House of Representatives is plain and wooden; used more often and more forcefully in the reputedly unruly chamber, it has been broken and replaced many times.



gavel in French: Marteau de président
gavel in Dutch: Voorzittershamer
gavel in Swedish: Ordförandeklubba
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