We have already discussed the cane, certainly a very common implement in the UK, europe and probably most of those parts of the world that were once or are still today part of the british commonwealth. What I am going to write about today is the switch. In many ways similiar to the cane, there are yet a few grave differences.

First, it must be said that there is no such thing as “the switch”. Switches come in a wide variety of sizes and material. What they have in common is that they are made out of (or simply are) a branch from a tree.

Willow, Hazel and birch branches seem to have been common in Europe, while I have heard of hickory being used in north america. As for the length and diameter, I’ve seen everything from small and thin switches to long and somewhat thicker branches which can genuinely be called sticks (As was done in my family, the hazel I received was called the Hazel Stick). However, in general switches are not as thick as a standard cane.

Switches are also even more flexible than a typical rattan cane, and the wood is more dense. This has several effects on its use: for example, a switch often is lacking the capacity to penetrate thicker layers of clothing (although one of those heavier switches could). As a switch of the same diameter would be heavier than a cane (rattan is less dense), it would bruise more. However, as most switches are thinner than canes, they are normally of comparable or lesser severity.

Part of the rituals that are associated with the switch is that sometimes the person about to receive it has to cut his or her own switch. Although the hazel stick I received was always already waiting on my fathers desk, i can easily see how this is an effective additional punishment.

The switch, not unlike the birch, was a predecessor of the rattan cane in many european schools. It has also been in use in families, especially in rural areas where trees were of course in abundance. It was (and is) an effective means of discipline.