Home Grammar A couple of laps on the laptop computer

A couple of laps on the laptop computer

A couple of laps on the laptop computer


Q: How did the phrase “lap” get these three totally different meanings: (1) the “lap” one swims,  (2) the “lap” a child is held on, and (3) the “lap” of a cat ingesting milk?

A: These three senses of “lap” are derived from two Previous English phrases of prehistoric Germanic origin, the noun læppa (the skirt or flap of a garment) and the verb lapian (to take up a liquid with the tongue).

Læppa is the last word supply of the “lap” the place a child is held in addition to the “lap” in swimming or racing, whereas lapian is the supply of a cat’s lapping milk, in line with the Oxford English Dictionary.

The OED says læppa first appeared in Pastoral Care, King Alfred’s late ninth-century translation of Liber Regulae Pastoralis, a sixth-century Latin treatise by Pope Gregory. The noun læppan right here is within the accusative case, a direct object:

“forcearf his mentles ænne læppan to tacne dat hə his geweald ahte” (“he [David] reduce off a lap of his [Saul’s] gown as an indication that he had him in his energy”). Gregory is referring to a biblical passage wherein David makes use of his knife to take a bit of Saul’s gown fairly than take the king’s life (1 Samuel 24:3-4).

The usage of læppat for the skirt or flap of a garment apparently led to its use for the part of the physique beneath that a part of the garment—the world from the waist to the knees of a seated individual.

The OED’s earliest instance of the utilization is from Layamon’s Brut, a Twelfth-century Center English historical past of the British folks (it’s referred to as a brut as a result of the historical past begins with Brutus, the legendary founding father of Britain):

“Com þar a bour-cniht and sat adun forþ-riht … he nam þan kynges hefd and leyde vppe his lappe” (“there got here a chamber knight and he sat down forthright … he then took the king’s head and laid it upon his lap”). Brian, the knight, had discovered King Cadwalan asleep in a meadow.

The OED’s first instance illustrating a baby on a mom’s lap, which we’ve expanded, is from an nameless 14th-century spiritual poem: “Als a childe þat sittes in þe moder lappe / And when it checklist [wishes], soukes hir pappe” (The Pricke of Conscience, circa 1325-50).

Within the nineteenth century, the folding-over sense of læppat apparently led to its use within the sense of a flip round a monitor in horse racing, first as a verb after which as a noun. Listed here are the OED’s earliest citations:

  • “I advised you the brown horse was a mighty quick one for slightly methods. However quickly I lapped him.” From A Quarter Race in Kentucky, and Different Sketches (1847), by William Trotter Porter.
  • “That they had gone fourteen ‘laps’ (as these circuits are technically referred to as).” From Chambers’s Journal of Fashionable Literature, Science and Arts (Nov. 23, 1861).

The utilization quickly appeared in swimming, the place it referred to “one outlined stage of a course, sometimes one or two lengths of a swimming pool,” the OED says.

Right here’s the dictionary’s earliest instance: “Beckwith … left the water after swimming 3 miles 21 laps, being on the time 7 laps to the unhealthy” (The Instances, London, Dec. 24, 1883).

As for the Previous English verb lapian (to take up a liquid with the tongue), the primary OED quotation, which we’ve expanded, is from Bald’s Leechbook, a medical textual content compiled within the ninth century:

“gebeorh þæt hie ungemeltnesse ne þrowian & god win gehæt & hluttor þicgen on neaht nestig & neaht nestige lapien on hunig” (“as a protection in opposition to struggling indigestion, take at night time good wine, heated and clear, and, fasting for an evening, lap on honey”). By the way in which, the time period “leechbook” comes from the Previous English læce (physician) and boc (e book).

Lastly, the OED’s first cat-lapping instance is from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, believed written round 1610: “They’l take suggestion, as a Cat laps milke.”

Along with the three senses of “lap” you’ve requested about,  the phrase is used now in lots of different methods derived from these two Previous English phrases. Listed here are some examples and the earliest OED dates for them:

“lap canine” (1645), “in fortune’s lap” (1742), waves that “lap” the shore (1855), a “lap” of a journey or different effort (1932), dropping a burden in somebody’s “lap” (1962), a “laptop computer” pc (1983), and “lap dance” (1986).

We’ll finish by sharing this “lap dance” instance from Anthony Lane’s assessment of the movie Showgirls within the Oct. 16, 1995, concern of The New Yorker:

“To lap-dance, you undress, sit your shopper down, order him to remain nonetheless and absolutely clothed, then hover over him, making a movement that you’ve got perfected by watching Mister Softee ice cream dispensers.”

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