cane, walking stick. Probably used first as a weapon, it gradually took on the symbolism of strength and power and eventually authority and social prestige. Ancient Egyptian rulers carried the symbolic staff, and in ancient Greece, some gods were represented with a staff in hand. In the Middle Ages, the long staff or walking stick was carried by pilgrims and shepherds. A scepter carried in the right hand symbolized royal power; carried in the left hand of a king the staff represented justice. The church, too, adopted the staff for its officials; the pastoral staff (crosier), which is long and has a crooked handle, symbolizes the bishop's office. The word cane was first applied to the walking stick after 1500, when bamboo was first used. After 1600 canes became highly fashionable for men. Made of ivory, ebony, and whalebone, as well as of wood, they had highly decorated and jeweled knob handles. They were often made hollow in order to carry possessions or supplies or, in some cases, to conceal a weapon. In the late 17th cent. oak sticks were extensively used, especially by the Puritans. The cane continued in men's fashions throughout the 18th cent.; as with the women's fan certain rules became standard for its use. From time to time women adopted the cane, particularly for a short time when Marie Antoinette carried the shepherd's crook. In the 19th cent. the cane became a mark of the professional man; the gold-headed cane was especially favored.
See K. Stein, Canes and Walking Sticks (1973).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.