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cane, in botany, name for the hollow or woody, usually slender and jointed stems of plants (particularly rattan and other bamboos) and for various tall grasses, e.g., sugarcane, sorghum, and also other grasses used in the S United States for fodder. The large, or giant, cane (Arundinaria macrosperma or gigantea), a bamboo grass native to the United States, often forms impenetrable thickets 15 to 25 ft (3.6-7.6 m) high—the canebrakes of the South. The stalks are used locally for fishing poles and other purposes, and the young shoots are sometimes eaten as a potherb.
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).

A cane is a long, straight wooden stick, generally of bamboo, Malacca (rattan) or some similar plant, mainly used as a support, such as a walking stick, or as an instrument of punishment. Depending on the use, it is left in its natural state or improved (e.g., smoothened, varnished).

Walking stick

Around the 17th or 18th century, the cane took over for the sword as an essential part of the European gentleman's wardrobe, used primarily as a walking stick. In addition to its value as a decorative accessory, the cane also continued to fulfill some of the function of the sword as a weapon. The standard cane was rattan (especially Malacca) with a rounded metal grip. The clouded cane, as in the quotation below, was made of Malacca and showed the patina of age:
Sir Plume, of amber snuff-box justly vain,
And the nice conduct of a clouded cane.
- Alexander Pope, The Rape of the Lock
Some canes had specially weighted metalwork. Other types of wood, such as hickory, are equally suitable.


Walking sticks, started out as a necessary tool for the shepherd and traveler. A nice hefty stick was an excellent way to protect against thieves and to keep animals in line. Over time, the walking stick gradually began to be known as a symbol for power and strength, and eventually authority and social prestige. Rulers of many cultures, past and present, have carried some form of walking stick or staff. (See more at Ceremonial mace)

In the United States, presidents have often carried canes and received them as gifts. The Smithsonian has a cane given to George Washington by Ben Franklin. It features a gold handle in the shape of a Phrygian cap. In our time, walking sticks are usually only seen with formal attire. Collectors of canes look for the old, the new and the novel (such as canes made from the penes of bison or bulls). Retractable canes that reveal such properties as hidden compartments, pool sticks, or blades are popular among collectors. Handles have been made from many substances, both natural and manmade. Carved and decorated canes have turned the functional into the fantastic.

Some canes, known as "Tippling Canes," or "Tipplers," have hollowed-out compartments near the top where flasks or vials of alcohol could be hidden and sprung out on demand.

When used as a mobility or stability aide, canes are generally used in the hand opposite the injury or weakness. This may appear counter-intuitive, but this allows the cane to be used for stability in a way that lets the user shift much of their weight onto the cane and away from their weaker side as they walk. Personal preference, or a need to hold the cane in their dominant hand, means some cane users choose to hold the cane on their injured side.

Fictional characters with canes

Uses as verb

The verb to cane usually means to strike with a cane, but can also be a positive attribute applied to an action to imply enthusiasm e.g. "I caned it!" (both transitive) or be used intransitively in modern English slang to express causing pain (e.g. "Ah, that canes!")

Cane is sometimes used to describe furniture made of wicker.

See also

Sources, references, external links

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