Fun Etymology Tuesday – Loophole

Tuesday! Isn’t it a marvellous day?
Have you ever been told to always read the fine print of a contract before signing it? Yes? Good! Because it is in that small text that you might find any loopholes in the deal you’re making, right? But where does that word come from? Let’s explore!

A compound from Middle English, this word consists of two parts: loop + hole. Let’s start with the latter.

Present-Day English “hole”, meaning something like a hollow place in an otherwise solid surface, is a Germanic word, found in Old English as “hol” with much the same meaning (it also has cognates in most Germanic languages: in Swedish, for example, you find “hål”), from Proto-Germanic *hulan, from PIE *kel, meaning to cover, conceal or save. Quite a long history there, but what about the first part of our word for today?

Well, “loop-“ comes from Middle English “loup(e)”, which actually referred to a narrow window or slit opening in a wall. You’ve probably seen these, in movies if nothing else, when there’s a massive battle going on, because these small windows were primarily for the protection of archers when shooting (though also for light and ventilation when there were no battles going on). This little word came to English around the beginning of the 14th century, probably from a continental Germanic source, like Middle Dutch “lupen”, meaning to lie in wait, watch or peer.

As is often the case, the modern meaning of the word is a later development, being recorded from around the 1660s.

And that’s our Tuesday fun!

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