Printable Version
Pronunciation: klæp-êr-klaw Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: 1. To claw or scratch with the nails, to fight tooth and nail. 2. To verbally abuse, to revile, vilify, vituperate, rail at.

Notes: Yep, it is a word and a real English one at that. Someone inclined to clapperclaw is a clapperclawer because he or she indulges in clapperclawing (the action noun). Clapperclawing also serves as an adjective describing clapperclawing individuals.

In Play: Today's Good Word must be legitimate, for Shakespeare himself used it several times: In The Merry Wives of Windsor (ii. Iii. 59) the host proclaims to Dr. Caius, who has just threatened to cut Sir Hugh's ears: "He will clapper-claw thee tightly, bully." Even today, it crops up in half-serious expressions like this: "Donny Brooke picked the wrong person to clapperclaw when he clapperclawed May Hemme; she gives such abuse better than she takes it."

Word History: Today's Good Word obviously began its life as a joke, but one that found a cozy home in the English lexicon. The word has been around since the 16th century and appears several times in the works of Shakespeare, including the one mentioned above. This word is a compound made up of clapper and claw. The term clapper is a joking reference to the hand since we clap with our hands. Claw is also a figurative reference to the nails. Where these two words come from is rather mysterious. We find traces of both in various other Germanic languages but nothing convincing outside Germanic. Clap may be onomatopoeic, but that explanation would not fit claw. (We would not like Leslie Nivens to clapperclaw us for omitting credit for the suggestion of today's Good Word, so thank you, Leslie. It is an amazing word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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