There are several possible reasons why a user of AWE might want to consult about the word bill, as well as the shortened name 'Bill'. There are several separate meanings, of which the ones that current students are likely to see may be grouped into two main areas. (For obsolete meanings, see OED.) The two are 'sharp weapons or tools'; and 'documents'.
- The edged bill or weapon may be seen in:
- Historically, men-at-arms (infantry), and, later, civilian watchmen, were sometimes equipped with bills: long weapons carried on a pole with a blade rather than a head at the end "varying in form from a simple concave blade with a long wooden handle, to a kind of concave axe with a spike at the back and its shaft terminating in a spear-head; a halberd" (OED).
- A billhook is a similar agricultural tool, used for pruning, hedging and so on. It has a short shaft and a curved blade in which a projecting branch may be caught and sliced through.
- The same etymology may apply to bill as an alternative name for the beak of a bird. This is often used figuratively, as can be seen in the names of plants, like the cranesbill (Geranium, a wild plant as opposed to the cultivated 'geranium', properly Pelargonium), or animals like the hawk's-bill turtle (Chelone imbricata) and the marsupial mammal the duck-billed platypus.
- A bill as 'a document' derives from the word 'bull', in its sense of '[a seal fixed to] an important document'. Some of its meanings are:
- A bill is a statement of how much has to be paid', a written invoice.
- The bill is the normal British word for what is called 'the check' in American English: the small statement of how much a customer in a restaurant owes for a meal that has been ordered and eaten. A customer indicates the end of the meal by asking a waiter for 'the (or my) bill, please'
- There are certain technical forms of 'bill' in Law, such as a Bill of Attainder, and in commerce, such as a 'bill of lading', which belong in this group. Some - like Bill of Attainder - may be more common in historical than current usage. If Commerce (Business), History, Law or Logistics, etc, are your subjects, you are advised to read up the technical meanings in an appropriate dictionary.
- A Bill (with upper case 'B-') is the proper word for the draft of an Act of Law that is presented to Parliament to discuss and vote on. When it has been accepted by Parliament, it becomes an Act; until it becomes law, it remains a Bill.
- In the past, bills were
- a form of lampoon or caricature, as a satirical comment circulated more or less surreptitiously:
- advertisements like fliers, or fly-posting; there were playbills outside theatres advertising the shows, and handbills that were passed out to individuals;
- lists, such as the 'watch-bill' on board ships, listing men against the duties to be performed; way-bills listing the passengers on a stage-coach, or the places it visited on its way
- various forms of finance, such as the note of a loan ('to meet a bill' was to pay it back on the due date); bank bills, the precursor of the modern paper currency (promising to 'pay the bearer on demand'); and the modern paper currency usually called in the USA a 'dollar bill'
- The Bill (shortened from '[the] Old Bill') is a slang word for 'the police'. It is most commonly used a a collective noun for the whole Police Force, or a part of it such as the (London) Metropolitan Police; but sometimes it is used for an individual policemen. It is unclear whether, or how closely, it is related to the forename.