• handicap •
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. An advantage given to a weaker participant in a sport or game to make play fairer, such as extra shots in golf given to less experienced players, or weight added to the saddle of a lighter rider in horse-racing. 2. Any disadvantage that hinders the expected outcome. 3. (Offensive) A physical, social, or mental disability.
Notes: Today's Good Word may be used as a verb, too. This makes possible an adjective, handicapping, and a noun, handicapper. Using today's word to refer to disabilities is frowned upon in the US.
In Play: This word is more likely to be used in conversations about sports: "I couldn't beat Raymond at golf with a ten hole handicap." It may be used, however, to refer to any disadvantage: "His criminal record presented a severe handicap when Robin Banks applied for a position as cashier at the restaurant."
Word History: An earlier spelling of today's Good Word was handy cap, leading many to believe it was a reduction of hand-in-cap. We do find a form of barter back in the 17th century, which a 1653 reference reported this way: "When the articles for exchange are decided, both parties, and the umpire, deposit equal stakes in a hat or cap, the two parties then placing a hand in the cap. The umpire then declares the amount of money to be given with the less valuable article, on hearing which the two other parties pull out their hands full or empty to show their acceptance or non-acceptance of the valuation. If the two agree, the whole of the stake money is taken by the umpire; but if not, it goes to the person who agrees to the valuation" (Oxford English Dictionary). We are not sure it was ever called hand-in-cap, so whether the two are related remains, not pure, but informed speculation. (Our thanks go to Richard David Bach for recommending today's Good Word.)
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