A gavel is a small ceremonial mallet commonly made of hardwood, typically fashioned with a handle and often struck against a sound block, a striking surface typically also made of hardwood, to enhance its sounding qualities.
It is a symbol of the authority and right to act officially in the capacity of a chair or presiding officer. The expression passing the gavel signifies an orderly succession from one chair to another.
A gavel is used to call for attention or to punctuate rulings and proclamations. According to tradition, Vice President of the United States of America John Adams used a gavel to call the very first Senate to order in New York in the spring of 1789. Since then, it has remained customary to tap the gavel against a lectern or desk to indicate the opening (call to order) and the closing (adjournment) of proceedings, giving rise to the phrase gavel-to-gavel to describe the entirety of a meeting or session. It is also used to keep the meeting itself calm and orderly.
The sound of the gavel strike, being abrupt to start and stop, and clearly audible by all present, serves to sharply define an action in time in a manner clearly perceivable by all, and to endow the action with practical as well as symbolic finality.
The gavel is used in courts of law in the United States and, by metonymy, is used there to represent the entire judiciary system, especially of judgeship; to bring down the gavel means to enforce or compel with the power of a court. On the other hand, in the United Kingdom, gavels have never been used by judges, despite many American-influenced TV programmes depicting them.
In addition, auctioneers have used gavels to signal a sale.
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