1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Boot
BOOT. (1) (From the O. Eng. bót, a word common to Teutonic languages, e.g. Goth, bóta, “good, advantage,” O.H.G. Buoza, Mod. Ger. Busse, “penance, fine”; cf. “better,” the comparative of “good”), profit or advantage. The word survives in “bootless,” i.e. useless or unavailing, and in such expressions, chiefly archaistic, as “what boots it?” “Bote,” an old form, survives in some old compound legal words, such as “house-bote,” “fire-bote,” “hedge-bote,” &c., for particular rights of “estover,” the Norman French word corresponding to the Saxon “bote” (see Estovers and Commons). The same form survives also in such expressions as “thief-bote” for the Old English customary compensation paid for injuries.
(2) (A word of uncertain origin, which came into English through the O. Fr. bote, modern botte; Med. Lat. botta or bota), a covering for the foot. Properly a boot covers the whole lower part of the leg, sometimes reaching to or above the knee, but in common usage it is applied to one which reaches only above the ankle, and is thus distinguished from “shoe” (see Costume and Shoe).
The “boot” of a coach has the same derivation. It was originally applied to the fixed outside step, the French botte, then to the uncovered spaces on or beside the step on which the attendants sat facing sideways. Both senses are now obsolete, the term now being applied to the covered receptacles under the seats of the guard and coachman.
The Boot, Boots or Bootikin was an instrument of torture formerly in use to extort confessions from suspected persons, or obtain evidence from unwilling witnesses. It originated in Scotland, but the date of its first use is unknown. It was certainly frequently employed there in the latter years of the 16th century. In a case of forgery in 1579 two witnesses, a clergyman and an attorney, were so tortured. In a letter dated 1583 at the Record Office in London, Walsingham instructs the English ambassador at Edinburgh to have Father Holt, an English Jesuit, “put to the boots.” It seems to have fallen into disuse after 1630, but was revived in 1666 on the occasion of the Covenanters’ rebellion, and was employed during the reigns of Charles II. and James II. Upon the accession of William III. the Scottish convention denounced “the use of torture, without evidence and in ordinary crimes, as contrary to law.” However, a year or so later, one Neville Payne, an Englishman suspected of treasonable motives for visiting Scotland, was put to the torture under the authority of a warrant signed by the king. This is the last recorded case of its use, torture being finally abolished in Scotland in 1709. It was not used in England after 1640. The boot was made of iron or wood and iron fastened on the leg, between which and the boot wedges were driven by blows from a mallet. After each blow a question was put to the victim, and the ordeal was continued until he gave the information or fainted. The wedges were usually placed against the calf of the leg, but Bishop Burnet says that they were sometimes put against the shin-bone. A similar instrument, called “Spanish boots,” was used in Germany. There were also iron boots which were heated on the victim’s foot. A less cruel form was a boot or buskin made wet and drawn upon the legs and then dried with fire.