Last night I said to Garry “Aha! He is hoisted upon his own petard!”

By which meant he had just become the victim of what he (in this case a movie character) had planned for someone else. Then, I paused, thinking.

“What,” I asked Garry, “Is a petard?”

“I have no idea,” said my husband.  Which is when I realized I’ve been using this expression my whole life and don’t know what it means.

Petard sounds French, but what is it? I grabbed my laptop and typed  “hoist on his … ” into Google. Before I got to petard … up it came. Don’t you just love when that happens?


Voila! Courtesy of Wikipedia, here is the rest of the story.

petard was a bomb used to blow up gates and walls when breaching fortifications. Castles. Walled cities. That sort of thing. The word was originally (duh) French and dates to the sixteenth century.

Typically, a petard was metal (bronze or iron), shaped like a cone or box. Filled with two or three kilos (5 or 6 pounds) of gunpowder and using a slow match for a fuse, the petard was a primitive, powerful and unstable explosive device.

After being filled with gunpowder, it would be attached to a wooden base and fastened to a wall, on or under a gate. The fuse was lit. If all went as planned, the explosion would blow a hole big enough to let assault troops through.

Thus the phrase “hoist on his/her own petard” came to mean “harmed by one’s own plan to harm someone else.” It suggests you could be lifted — hoisted — by your own bomb.

Categories: History, Humor, Literature, medieval history, Quotation, Sayings and Platitudes, Words

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28 replies

  1. After 83 years and six months, I heard the phrase in my head (“Hoisted on his own petard.”) and realized that I was not sure of the meaning of “petard,” nor of the entire phrase.
    Since I happened to have a Random House Roget’s Thesaurus by my computer this week, I was surprised to not even find “petard” in it at all!
    My guess and presumption was that “petard” was French for a kind of sword, and that the phrase meant: The person planning to run someone through was surprised when they took his sword, ran him through and lifted him off the ground with the handle of it.” Funny, how we “fill in the blanks” so to speak.So, I decided to Google the word and the phrase.
    Now thanks to Google and you, I apparently know the real “bomb/explosive” meaning of the word, something of its history and usage. and the meaning: “a person can be “blown up” by his own “bomb” (literally) or a person can be harmed by the same harm he or she was planning for someone else (general meaning). That the origin/etymology of the word is related to “farts” is a bit like finding a colorful olive with the martini–interesting, perhaps colorful, but “smuttier” and less attractive or pleasing to think about..
    Google is wonderful, efficient, amazing, so time-and-energy-saving. And it is people who give us more of what we want and need. Thanks, everybody!


    • I was surprised too as was my husband. We are both pretty literate, but it had never occurred to us to wonder what that meant. When it was a petard “bomb,” they hadn’t invented fuses so whether or not you blew up whatever or yourself was 50-50.


  2. I too once used that expression, wondered what a “petard” was and looked it up. It’s nice to know where these things come from!


  3. Thanks for clarifying that Marilyn, I always thought of a petard as a sword – such as falling on your own sword.


  4. I’m reminded of the old joke which was first told as a war time accident with some form of explosives or gunfire as I recollect, or a firework and a cats bottom. It’s so long ago when I first heard the joke it has been lost in the mists of time however it can be modified to suit this situation. As I notice the petard is a cone shaped object which might in the heat of battle be misplaced prior to exploding should there be an unfortunate soldier in front of the man placing the charge. Which leads to the question of how much damage was done after the explosion? The punchline of course is; “Stuck up his arse, sir” “No, soldier, you mean rectum.” “Okay sir if you say so; rectum, it certainly did, damn near blew ’em to bits!”


  5. I love this! It’s so interesting and fun to find out the meanings behind such well-known sayings. I hadn’t looked into this one, though, and this is another “Ah – I see!” moment. Thanks for sharing this little gem, and I hope you get your wish and that your country’s leader is eventually, hoisted on his own petard! 🙂


    • Well, I was using that expression all these years and suddenly realized I had NO idea what it meant. I thought it was going to mean something like “flag” or “windsock” or something. I was pretty surprised to discover it was a primitive, yet effective bomb. I should have known it would be a weapon.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I can see why it would be a weapon, but I’d never have expected it to be an explosive one. Still good to know the origins though.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. I never knew the meaning of petard.


  7. It‘s also used for farting…. not beautifully put but understandably ‚to the point‘! 😉

    Over breakfast (I just finished) I had to look up another French expression: Avaler des couleuvres (to accept a lot of conditions in order to please somebody – in our case). I understood perfectly well but we wouldn‘t say: Swallowing a few colubrids… 😉 We probably, in the Swiss German language, don‘t ‚swallow‘ 🙂 🙂 :), neither vipres or other gliding stuff LOL


  8. You missed the best bit… petard comes from the Old French ‘peter’, from ‘pet’ meaning a fart! (‘peter’ means break wind!!)

    When you’re ‘hoist’ you’re blown off your feet by your own wind! Sounds about right for the Windbag in Chief! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Would that our country’s leader be hoisted on his own petard but never seems to happen.

    Liked by 2 people

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