AskDefine | Define fetters

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. Plural of fetter


  1. third-person singular of fetter

Extensive Definition

This article is about physical fetters used as restraints. For other uses, see Fetter (disambiguation).
Fetters, shackles, footcuffs or leg irons are a kind of physical restraint used on the feet or ankles to allow walking but prevent running and kicking. The term "fetter" shares a root with the word "foot".
In humans, typically only prisoners or bondage fetishists will wear shackles. A shackled animal is typically either a dangerous animal or one prone to escape.
Metaphorically, a fetter may be anything that restricts or restrains in any way, hence the word "unfettered".


The earliest fetters found in archaeological excavations date from the prehistoric age and are mostly of the puzzle lock type. Roman times already see a variety of restraint types. Some early versions of cup lock shackles can already be found. These were widely used in medieval times but their use declined when mass production made the manufacture of locks built into restraints affordable.
Simple fetter types continue to be used like puzzle lock shackles as the typical slave iron or irons riveted shut for prisoners being transported to overseas prison camps. The First built-in locks often were of a simple screw-type but soon developed into the "Darby" type. In Europe these continued to be used into the middle of the 20th century, whereas in the US from the late 19th century onwards many new designs were invented and produced before handcuffs and leg irons of the Peerless type became the standard several decades ago.
A recent development of the last few decades are high security restraints that incorporate a cylinder lock that is more difficult to pick than the lock on standard type cuffs.

Controversial use

In comparison to handcuffs the wearing of leg irons may be found less restrictive. Thus the prison authorities in several countries deem their long term use acceptable. In order to not condone this disputed practice the countries of the European Union have banned exporting leg irons into non-EU countries. The countries that continue to make prisoners wear fetters long term now tend to resort to manufacture their own restraints.
fetters in German: Fußschellen
fetters in Hebrew: אזיקי רגל
fetters in Portuguese: Fetters
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