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This blog post discusses the duties of a "tipstaff" as a role that still exists in Pennsylvania (US) courts, which includes clerical duties such as ordering motions and announcements etc.
There are reasons against using the term, such as perception of corruption and/or courtroom novices (e.g. jurors) getting the impression they're supposed to tip the tip-staff.
The post closes with a question, which I'm asking here: Why does Pennsylvania still call this position by the name tipstaff?

Note: The title is distinguished from that of "bailiff" in the Clarion County Juror Handbook ("Each courtroom has two tipstaffs and a bailiff"). Title 234 Rule 111 also seems to contemplate a distinction as the rule applies to "all court personnel including, among others, court clerks, bailiffs, tipstaffs, and court stenographers."


I did consider posting this on EL&U but think here it might get the benefit of more specialized knowledge or people more familiar with actual practices of law & functioning of courts in PA.

  • I think you might actually have two divergent questions here: Where does the title come from, and why is it still used? – jimsug Sep 25 '15 at 2:27
  • How would the pronunciation differ depending on whether the term is one word or two? – phoog Sep 25 '15 at 3:02
  • They're only divergent if the original reasoning for where it came from is no longer valid. – WBT Sep 25 '15 at 4:20
  • 1
    Only because we haven't gotten around to abolishing it? <<pours one out for the Clerk of Quarter Sessions>> articles.philly.com/2010-10-13/news/… – user662852 Sep 25 '15 at 17:18
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In the English legal system, a "tipstaff" was a wooden stick with a metal tip; it was carried by certain officials as a badge of office. The OED has citations with this meaning dating back to the sixteenth century.

Because these staffs were most often used by bailiffs, the word came to be used to describe them as well. Bailiffs would carry their staffs as they collected rent, arrested debtors, and did other visible jobs in the community.

In the American system, the role of the bailiff is much more limited. For the record, I practiced for years in Pennsylvania and never heard the bailiff or any court officer referred to as a "tipstaff," but given that the Pennsylvania courts are somewhat weird in other ways (does anyone else call the court clerk a "prothonotary"?) I wouldn't be surprised if this archaic usage had survived in some courts.

  • The question remains - what is special about PA, both historically and today, that this title exists - not only in practice but written into statutes and court rules. – jqning Sep 30 '15 at 2:36
  • Bailiff and tipstaff appear to have at least some distinction; see edit to question. Also, there is no question that the term is still in active use in PA. – WBT Sep 30 '15 at 4:42
  • Is the tipstaff related to the ceremonial maces some universities and Congress have? – user662852 Sep 30 '15 at 13:59

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