Part 3 - Crux - Modern English Use and Ancient Quotidian Meanings
In this part I will talk about the modern English use and the ancient Greco-Roman uses of the word crux that have nothing to do with the actual punishment of crucifixion. Because the Romans NEVER CRUCIFIED the way we think they did!
A. Modern English Use
From The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language:
crux (kruks, krooks) n., pl. crux - es or cru - ces (kroo-cez) 1. The basic, central, or critical point or feature: the crux of the matter; the crux of an argument. 2. A puzzling or apparently insoluble problem. [Probably short for Mediaeval Latin crux (interpretum), torment (of interpreters), from the Latin crux, cross.The Language Log quotes a rock climbers' dictionary thus:
Crux - The most crucial, difficult part of the climb.Now the idea of crux meaning a central point or feature of a matter seems to derive right out of the crux interpretum, which means a cross (ways) of the interpreters, a passage in a text where interpreters do not agree.  Another modern sense of crux is in the modern use of the word crucify, which now typically means 'to torture, torment'.  (See also Part 1) Another sense of the word crucify, not noted in the dictionaries, is to smear someone or make him dead to rights figuratively, as in, "they crucified the whistleblower in the mainstream media, starting with Fox News." And the Urban Dictionary has noted that a new slang term for crucifying someone is to beat up on him. 
B. Ancient Quotidian Meanings
There are actually different ancient quotidian meanings of the word crux, such as: - the tow-pole of a carriage, wagon or chariot; - a term of reproach; - torture, trouble, misery, destruction, etc.; - a tormentor; - an agent or indirect object of a curse; and still another! - the ever-erect phallus of Priapus.
B.1. The Tow-pole of a Carriage, Wagon or Chariot
Here is a mosaic showing a tow-pole secured to a team of seahorses by means of a cross beam! This cross beam would have been called a jugum or a furca despite its obvious resemblance to a patibulum.
And here is a mosaic where no cross beam is present.
These appear to be dated from the First or Second Centuries CE. The above examples show how the Romans harnessed their animal-drawn vehicles. These vehicles were extremely sophisticated, especially when compared to what people had to deal with in the Middle Ages. Not only did the tow-pole swing up and down, it also pivoted transversely and the front axles pivoted with them. A more thorough discussion can be found at the Roman Traction Systems article by Dr. Judith A. Weller. Only with one or more pairs of animals for heavy loads does one see yokes used in conjunction with tow-poles or tow-chains.  And no, neither does the Lewis & Short Latin-English Lexicon nor the Elementary Lewis indicate that these yokes were called patibula!  As you can see in the above examples, a crux pendula, a.k.a. statera, was long and straight, rectangular or circular in cross section depending on the vehicle, and swung so that it could stick out horizontally or project up at an angle. Ancient Frescoes and Mosaics Do Not Lie.
Here is where the term crux pendula comes from:
Hic quondam piger axe vectus uno nutabant cruce pendula viator sorbebatque rotas maligna tellus, et plebs in mediis latina campis horrebat mala navigationis; nec cursus agile, sed impeditum tardabant iter orbitae tacentes, dum pondus nimium querens sub alta repit languida quadrupes statera.
My rough translation:
This slow traveller at one time used having ridden alone by chariot used to sway with a swinging, swaying crux and used to endure the disagreeable wheels [and] the ground, and a commoner in the middle of the Latium fields used to avoid the evils of driving; not even quick runs, but hindrances delay the silenced journey of a wheel-track, whilst complaining under a heavy burden being supported, creeps the sluggish, four-footed chariot pole-bar.
This was written by Publius Papinus Statius (45-96 CE) in Silvae 4. 3. 27-35 during the time of Emperor Domitian.  So in the 1st Century CE, a crux could still refer to something long and round!
And here in New York City is a reproduction Roman chariot with its crux pendula in between the two horses adapted for modern technology!
B.2. A Term of Reproach
Amongst the lower classes and the slaves, the terms crux and the like were used as a term of reproach, like "gallows bird" or "hempen rascal." Here's an example: T. Macchius Plautus (254-184 BCE), Persa Act 5, Scene 2, Line 17. 
Note: PAEGNIUM has just threatened DORDALUS with hitting him in the with a tankard (a single-handled drinking vessel, usually made of metal).
Dordalvs: Quid ais, crux, stimulorum tritor? quo modo me hodie versavisti, ut me in tricas coniecisti, quo modo de Persa manus mi aditast?
DORDALUS: What do you say, gallows*, you wearer away of the whip? How have you imposed upon me** to-day? Into what embarrassments have you thrown me? How have I been baulked about the Persian?
* Gallows: "Crux." literally, "cross;" in allusion to it as peculiarly the instrument of the punishment of the slaves.
**Imposed upon me: "Manus adita est." Literally, "your hand was gone to." This is probably an allusion to the practice of kissing the hand in irony to a person when he is loudly complaining of having been imposed upon.
Now Plautus lived before Statius, in the 3rd and 2nd Centuries BCE. So it is quite possible or even probable here that crux does not refer to "cross," but rather "pale," or "impaling stake." A good slang term could be "lethal ****er!"
B.3. Torture, Trouble, Misery, Destruction, Etc.
In the ancient plays, Plautus and P. Terentius Afer (Terence) (190-158 BCE) used the word 'crux' to denote a figurative torture, torment, misery, or destruction. Here are some examples:
Plautus, Aulularia, Act 3, Scene 5, Lines 46-48. 
Megadorus: ducuntur, datur aes. iam absolutas censas, cum incedunt infectores corcotarii, aut aliqua mala crux semper est, quae aliquid petat.
MEGADORUS: You would think them got rid of by this; when dyers in saffron colours come sneaking along; or else there's always some horrid plague or other which is demanding something.
Plautus Bacchides, Act 4, Scene 2, Lines 1-2. 
(In scene 1, PARASITE has the BOY knock on the door of PISTOCLERUS. The BOY knocks on the door while PARASITE shouts loud enough to wake the dead.)
(Scene 2 begins. Enter PISTOCLERUS from the house.)
Pistoclervs: Quid istuc? quae istaec est pulsatio? * quae te mala crux agitat, quí ad istunc modum alieno viris tuas extentes ostio? fores paene exfregisti. quid nunc vis tibi?
PISTOCLERUS: What's the matter? What's this knocking? Why, what the confounded torment possesses you, to be exerting your strength in this fashion on another person's door? You've almost broken the door down. What do you want now?
Plautus Bacchides, Prologue, Lines 65-66. 
(The ravisher of the child, i.e., the plunderer of his estate, was by chance travelling in the countryside after a heavy rain and not far from the city, he crosses a rapid stream)
rapidus raptori pueri subduxit pedes abstraxitque hominem in maximam malam crucem.
in its rapidity it threw the ravisher of the child off his legs; and hurried the man away to great and grievous destruction.
Terence, Phormio, Act 3, Scene 3, Lines 9-11. 
Geta: Sane hercle pulchre suades: etiam tu hinc abis? Non triumpho ex nuptiis tuis si nihil nanciscor mali, Ni etiam nunc me huius causa quaerere in malo iubeas crucem?
GETA: Upon my faith, you really do give me fine advice; out upon you! Ought I not to be heartily glad, if I meet with no mishap through your marriage, but what, in addition to that, you must now bid me, for his sake, to be seeking risk upon risk?
Columella (4-70 CE), De re Rustica 1.7.2  reflects the Roman understanding the crux as the summum supplicium, that is, the utter extreme of legal punishments, showing just how far the law was capable regarding the destruction of a criminal, once he's caught:
summum ius antiqui summam putabant crucem.
The utmost of the law of old would be reckoned to be the topmost of the crux.
Catullus (84-54 BCE), Poem 99, lines 1-4 , compared the torment of grief after having a stolen kiss rejected by his beloved, Juventius, to being stuck on top of a crux.
SVRRUPI tibi, dum ludis, melitte Iuenti, suauiolum dulci dulcius ambrosia uerum id non impune tuli namque amplius horam suffixum in summa cruce me memini esse cruce,
I STOLE a kiss from you, honey-sweet Juventius, while you were playing a kiss sweeter than sweet ambrosia But not unpunished; for I remember how for more than an hour I hung impaled on top of a crux.
Likewise, the two also used the term to denote people who are aggravating nusicances, i.e., torments. It could be argued that in B.2. Term of Reproach above, in Plautis' Persa, Dordalus was calling Paegnium a tormentor. Here is another fine example:
Terence, Eunuchus, Act 2, Scene 3, Lines 91-94. 
Chaerea: An id flagitium est, si in domum meretriciam Deducar; et illis crucibus quae nos nostramque adolescentiam Habent despicatam, et quae nos semper omnibus cruciant* modis, Nunc referam gratiam; atque eas itidem fallam ut ab illis fallimur?
CHAEREA: What, is it disgraceful to be taken to the house of a Courtesan, and to return the compliment upon those tormentors who treat us and our youthful age so scornfully, and who are always tormenting us in every way;--to dupe them just as we are duped by them? Or is it right and proper that in preference my father should be wheedled out of his money by deceitful pretexts? Those who knew of this would blame me; while all would think the other a meritorious act.
* cruciant = (verb 3rd person plural present indicative active) of crucio, to put to the rack, to torture, to torment.
B.5. An Agent or Indirect Object of a Curse
The term crux was, before Christianity, used as an indirect object or an agent of a curse, usually obscene! It's kind of like the curse that former Vice president Dick Cheney said to US Senator Pat Leahy from Vermont way back in 2005: "Go **** yourself!" But it was actually even worse when the crux was a pole of impalement, because then when someone told someone else to go to a crux ("I in crucem!"), he not only told him to go "ride the point" (figuratively) but he also him to just go off and die! It's like the Mr. Garrison character of South Park, screaming at Kyle in his third grade class, "You die! You go to hell and you die!"
Plautus, Casina Act 3, Scene 5, Line 17 
(Lysidamus is translated as STALINO by Henry Thomas Riley.)
Lysidamvs: I ín malam a mé crucem, péctus, aurís, caput téque di pérduint,
STALINO: Away to utter perdition; breast, ears, head, and yourself, may the Gods confound!
Plautus, Pseudolus Act 3, Scene 2, Line 54-58 
Cocvs: Dimissis pedibus volui dicere. eum odorem cenat Iuppiter cottidie.
Ballio: Si nusquam is coctum, quidnam cenat Iuppiter?
Cocvs: It incenatus cubitum.
Ballio: I in malam crucem. istacine causa tibi hodie nummum dabo?
A COOK.: With its feet hanging down, I meant to say. Jupiter dines on that odour every day.
BALLIO: If you happen not to go out to cook, pray what does Jupiter dine upon?
A COOK.: He goes to sleep without his dinner.
BALLIO: Go to very perdition! Is it for this reason that I'm to give you a didrachm to-day?
Terence, Phormio Act 2, Scene 3, Line 14-24 
Phormio: Nam iam adolescenti nihil est quod succenseam, Si ilium minus norat: quippe homo iam grandior, Pauper, cui opera vita erat, ruri fere Se continebat: ibi agrum de nostro patre Colendum habebat. Saepe interea mihi senex Narrabat se hunc negligere cognatum suum: At quem virum! quem ego viderim in vita optimum.
Geta: Videas te atque ilium ut narras.
Phormio: I in malam crucem. Nam nisi ita eum existimassem, nunquam tam graves Ob hanc inimicitias caperem in vestram familiam, Quam is aspernatur nunc tam illiberaliter.
PHORMIO: For really, I have no reason why I should be offended at the young man, if he did not know him; since that person, when growing aged and poor, and supporting himself by his labor, generally confined himself to the country; there hehad a piece of land from my father to cultivate; full oft, in the mean time, did the old. man tell me that this kinsman of his neglected him: but what a man? The very best I ever saw in all my life.
GETA: (in a loud voice.) Look to yourself as well as to him, how you speak.
PHORMIO: (with affected indignation.) Away, to utter perdition, with you. For if I had not formed such an opinion of him, I should never have incurred such enmity with your family on her account, whom he now slights in such an ungenerous manner.
Plautus, Menaechmi Act 2 Scene 2, Lines 53-56 
Menaechmus: Non edepol tú homo sanus es, certo scio.
Cylindrus: Iam ergo haec madebunt faxo, nil morabitur. proin tu ne quo abeas longius ab aedibus. numquid vis?
Menaechmus: Vt eas maximam malam crucem.
MENAECHMUS SOSICLES: By my troth, you are not a person in his right senses, that I know for sure.
CYLINDRUS: I'll have these things cooked directly; there shall be no delay. Don't you be going after this anywhere at a distance from the house. Do you want anything?
MENAECHMUS SOSICLES: You to go to utter and extreme perdition!
Plautus, Captivi Act 3 Scene 1, Line 9 
Ergasilvs: ilicet parasiticae arti maximam malam crucem,
ERGASILUS: Away with the profession of a Parasite to very utter and extreme perdition!
Plautus, Asinaria Act 5 Scene 2 Line 91 
Plautus, Casina Act 5 Scene 4 Lines 15, 16 
Artemona: I domum.
Philenium: Da savium etiam prius quam abis.
Demaentius: I in crucem.
ARTEMONA: (to DEMÆNETUS.) Be off home.
PHILENIUM: (to DEMÆNETUS.) Do give me a kiss, at least, before you go.
DEMAENETUS: (to PHILENIUM.) Go hang yourself. (Exeunt.)
(A trick has been played on Lysidamus (STALINO) and his slave bailiff Olympio: Lysidamus' wife Cleostrata has placed their son's slave armour-bearer Chalinus in place of her maidservant, Casina for her marriage to Olympio, because Chalinus learns of and reports to Cleostrata that Olympio agrees to let Lysidamus, who is madly in love with Casina just like Olympio is, have a sexual relationship with Casina starting on the wedding night! Needless to say, it is Chalinus who is on the receiving end of Olympio and Lysidamus' passions; and yes, he does get ploughed and not nicely, either. And so he beats up Olympio, punching him in the jaw, and takes Lysidamus' cloak and cane. Serves them both right!)
(In this scene, Chalinus chases after Lysidamus, keeping up the ruse.)
Chalinus: Etiamne imus cubitum? Casina sum.
Lysidamvs: I in malam crucem.
Chalinus: Non amas me?
CHALINUS: (coming up to STALINO) Shall we go to bed again? I am Casina.
STALINO: Away with you to utter perdition!
CHALINUS: Don't you love me?
Plautus, Pseudolus Act 5 Scene 2 Lines 9,10 
Pseudolus: Vír malus viro óptumo obviam it.
Simo: Dí te ament, Pseúdole. fú i in malám crucem.
PSEUDOLUS: (staggering [drunk] up to SIMO.) A worthless fellow is coming to meet the best of men.
SIMO May the Gods bless you, Pseudolus. (PSEUDOLUS eructates.) Foh! go to utter perdition. (Pushes him away.)
Plautus, Poenulus Act 1, Scene 2, Line 138-139 
Adelphasium: Deferto ad me, faxo actutum constiterit lymphaticum.
Milphio: Bellula hercle.
Agorastocles: I díerecte in maxumam malam crucem.
ADELPHASIUM: Bring them to me; I'll make their madness pretty soon come to an end.
MILPHIO: (With indignation.) A nice one, upon my word!
AGORASTOCLES: Away to utter and extreme perdition with you, and go and be hanged!
Plautus, Mostellaria 3.2.162-165 
(THEOPROPRIDES SENEX, SIMO and TRANIO SERVUS are looking into a house to see if they can go in and investigate. Presently they are looking for dogs.)
Tranio Servus: Mane sis videam, ne canis—
Theoproprides Senex: Agedum vide.
Tranio Servus: Est! abi, canis. est! abin diérecta? abin hinc in malam crucem? at etiam restas? est! ábi istinc.
Simo: Nil pericli est, age
. tam placidast, quam feta. quam vis ire intro audacter licet. eo ego hinc ad forum.—
TRANIO: There is one.
THEUROPIDES: (looking in.) Where is it?
TRANIO: (to the dog.) Be off and be hanged! 'St, won't you be off to utter perdition with you? What, do you still linger? 'St, away with you from here!
SIMO: (coming nearer to the door.) There's no danger. You only move on. It's as gentle as a woman in childbed. You may boldly step in-doors wherever you like. I'm going hence to the Forum.
Plautus, Persa Act 5, Scene 2, Lines 75-79 
Toxilus: Satis súmpsimus súpplici iam.
Dordalus: Fateór, manus vobís do.
Toxilus: Et póst dabis sub fúrcis.
Sagaristo: Abi íntro—in crucem.
Dordalus: Án me hic parum éxercitum hísce habént?
Toxilus: Convenísse te Tóxilum me * spéctatores, bene valete. leno periit. plaudite.
TOXILUS: Have we now had satisfaction enough?
DORDALUS: I confess it; I hold up my hands to you.
TOXILUS: And, ere long, you shall be holding them beneath the bilboes.
SAGARISTIO: Be off in-doors. To perdition!
DORDALUS: (to the AUDIENCE.) Have these fellows here worked me in too slight a degree? (Goes into his house.)
TOXILUS: (calling after him.) Keep in mind that you met with a Toxilus. (To the AUDIENCE.) Spectators, kindly fare you well. The Procurer is demolished. Grant us your applause.
B.6. The Ever-erect Phallus of Priapus
Ooooh, we are going to have fun here!!!
Catullus, The Priapea, Priapus 87, Lines 17-21 
manumque sursum habebis. Hoc tibi expedit,
parata namque crux stat ecce mentula*
'Velim pol' inquis? At pol ecce vilicus venit,
valente cui revulsa bracchio fit
ista mentula apta clava dexterae.
Best it befits thee to keep thy hands
Thy crux is ready, shaped as an artless yard*
'I'm willing 'Faith' (thou say'st) but 'Faith here comes
The boor and plucking forth with bended arm
Makes of this tool a club for doughty hand.
*Lit.: Your impaler is ready, beware! the phallus is erect.
The source translation has crux as "cross." It's definitely NOT a cross... it's an enormous phallus! And it's ready for penetration.
Q Horatius Flaccus (Horace) (65-8 BCE) Satyrarum libri 1.8.1-7 
Conqueritur Priapus Esquilinum montem veneficarum incantationibus infestari.
Olim truncus eram ficulnus, inutile lignum, cum faber, incertus scamnum faceretne Priapum, maluit esse Deum. Deus inde ego, furum aviumque maxima formido; nam fures dextra coercet obscaenoque ruber porrectus ab inguine palus, ast importunas volucres in vertice harundo terret fixa vetatque novis considere in hortis.
Priapus is complaining that Mount Esquiline is being infested with the incantations of witches.
When the artificer, in doubt whether he should make a stool or a Priapus of me, determined that I should be a God. Henceforward I became a God, the greatest terror of thieves and birds: for my right hand restrains thieves, and a bloody looking pole on my frightful middle*: but a reed fixed upon the crown of my head** terrifies the mischievious birds, and hinders them from settling in these new gardens.***
* Lit.: A red and obscene pale stretching out from the groin. This is where the lexica get palus obscoeno from. What does this have to do with crucifixion? Palus is one of the vernacular names (at least amongst the Christians) that a certain attachment on the Roman crucifixion frame is given and it is taken in some translations for the upright central post of the cross but that is not necessarily so, as we shall see in Tertullian.
** in vertice harundo, lit. a reed, or a crown or wreath of reeds, upon the crown of the head. The similarity to the crown of thorns on the head of Jesus in the gospels is uncanny!
***Octavian, willing to correct the infection (miasma) of the hill, which was a common burial ground (also a yard for executions - Tacitus Annales 2.32.2, 15.60.1 - including crucifixions) for all the poor of Rome, got the consent of the Senate and the people to give part of it to Macaenas, who built a magnificent house there with extensive gardens. Seneca the Younger has choice words for Maceneas, as we shall see.
Clearly, since Catullus referred to Priapus' membrum virile as a crux that Horace referred to as a palus obsceno, then it is obvious that crux does not always mean "cross." And maybe before Christianity, it never did.
And here's what Priapus and his palus obsceno, his crux, so to speak, looked like.
Ancient Statues Do Not Lie.
Ancient Frescoes Do Not Lie.
Ancient Coins Do Not Lie.
Update 07 October 2011
Since the original posting of this part I have found yet another quotidian use for a crux: a grapevine support.
Pliny The Elder, The Natural History, Book XIV, Chapter 3. 
ulmos quidem ubique exuperant, miratumque altitudinem earum ariciae ferunt legatum regis pyrrhi cineam facete lusisse in austeriorem gustum vini, merito matrem eius pendere in tam alta cruce.Here are some examples.
Everywhere we find the vine overtopping the elm even, and we read that Cineas,4 the ambassador of King Pyrrhus, when admiring the great height of the vines at Aricia, wittily making allusion to the peculiar rough taste of wine, remarked that it was with very good reason that they had hung the parent of it on so lofty a gibbet.
(End of Update)
 Verbosum Blogspot.com - Crux
 Random House.com - Crux
 Urban Dictionary.com - Crucify
 Humanist.de - Roman Traction Systems - Wagon
 Sketchup Google.com - Warehouse Details - Roman Ox-drawn Wagon
 Perseus Tufts.edu - Patibulum
 Statius, Silvae IV, ch. III "Via Domitiana" at The Latin Library
 Perseus Tufts.edu - T. Maccius Plautus, Persa 5.2
 Perseus Tufts.edu - T. Maccius Plautus, Aulularia 3.5.46-48
 T. Maccius Plautus, Bacchides 4.2.1-2
 Perseus Tufts.edu - T. Macchius Plautus Bacchides, Prologue, Lines 65-66 English translation here.
 Perseus Tufts.edu - P. Terentius Afer (Terence), Phormio 3.3.9-12
 Columella De re Rustica 1.7.2, quoted in Martin Hengel, Crucifixion in the ancient world and the folly of the message of the cross, translated by John Bowden, Philadelphia, PA, Fortress Press, 1977 p.66. Also Perseus Tufts.edu - Crux (select 'Lewis & Short')
 VRoma.org - Catullus, Poem 99
 Perseus Tufts.edu - P. Terentius Afer (Terence), Eunuchus 2.3.91-94
 Perseus Tufts.edu - T. Macchius Plautus, Casina 3.5.17
 Perseus Tufts.edu - T. Macchius Plautus, Pseudolus 3.2.54-58
 Perseus Tufts.edu - P. Terentius Afer (Terence), Phormio 2.3.14-24
 Perseus Tufts.edu - T. Macchius Plautus, Menaechmi 2.2.53-56
 Perseus Tufts.edu - T. Macchius Plautus, Captivi 3.1.9
 Perseus Tufts.edu - T. Macchius Plautus, Asinaria 5.2.91
 Perseus Tufts.edu - T. Macchius Plautus, Casina 5.4.15, 16
 Perseus Tufts.edu - T. Macchius Plautus, Pseudolus 5.2.9,10
 Perseus Tufts.edu - T. Macchius Plautus, Poenulus Act 1, Scene 2, Line 138-139
 Perseus Tufts.edu - T. Macchius Plautus, Mostellaria 3.2.162-165
 Perseus Tufts.edu - T. Macchius Plautus, Persa 5.2.75-79
 Dankalia.com - The Priapea
 Perseus Tufts.edu - O. Horatius Flaccus (Horace), Satyrarum libri 1.8.1-7
 Perseus Tufts.edu - Pliny The Elder, The Natural History BOOK XIV CHAP. 3
Part 4 - The Tropaeum and the Furca
PREVIOUS CRUCIFIXION ARTICLES:
Crucifixion – The Bodily Support - Part 1.
Crucifixion – The Bodily Support - Part 2 - Archaeological Evidence.
Crucifixion - The Bodily Support - Part 3 - Manuscript Evidence and its Similarities to the Imagery of the Caesar Cult.
Crucifixion – The Bodily Support - Part 4 - Physics of Crucifixion.