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Re: Handicap

Posted by R. Berg on August 10, 2001

In Reply to: Re: Handicap posted by ESC on August 09, 2001

: : : I'm trying to find the Original meaning of the phrase, "cap in hand" (or possibly hand in cap.
: : : People in the disability movement think the origin of handicap is " cap in hand" ie begging and therefore derrogatory. Others say its "cap in hand" as in horse racing where originally jockeys had to hold their cap as a early "handicap". The Oxford Dictionary says, possibly "hand in cap" was an early game - pulling tokens or cards out of the hat - in a "sporting lottery"
: : : HELP!

: : Etymology: obsolete English handicap (a game in which forfeit money was held in a cap), from hand in cap

: :
: : Handicap.
: :
: : A game at cards not unlike loo, but with this difference:
: : the winner of one trick has to put in a double stake, the winner of two tricks a triple stake, and so on. Thus: if six persons are playing, and the general stake is 1s., and A gains three tricks, he gains 6s., and has to "hand i' the cap" or pool 3s. for the next deal. Suppose A gains two tricks and B one, then A gains 4s. and B 2s., and A has to stake 3s. and B 2s. for the next deal.

: : E. Cobham Brewer 1810-1897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898

: "handicap n. Probably before 1653, from 'hand in cap' a wagering game in which forfeit money was deposited in a cap. Reference to horse racing appeared in 'Handy-Cap Match' . The sense of encumbrance or disability, is first recorded in 1890." From "Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology" by Robert K. Barnhart (HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 1995).

: Coincidentally, I was researching the American Disabilities Act today. The U.S. Department of Justice site says that in official use the word "handicap" has been displaced by "disability." Another thought, "people first" language is considered more enlightened. Example: "Person with a disability." Not "disabled person" (defining and labeling the person on the basis of a single attribute).

But why, you ask, should the name of a gambling game turn into a word for a physical or mental disability? The history of "handicap" in the Oxford English Dictionary makes it all clear.

Sense 1: "The name of a kind of sport having an element of chance in it, in which one person challenged some article belonging to another, for which he offered something of his own in exchange. . . . an umpire was chosen to decree the difference of value between the two articles, and all three parties deposited forfeit-money in a cap or hat. . . ."

Sense 2: "Horse-racing. (orig. attrib.)
a. Handicap match: a match between two horses, the arrangement of which was made in accordance with the sport of handicap in [sense] 1, the umpire here decreeing the extra weight to be carried by the superior horse . . ."
Excerpts from "Pond's Racing Calendar," 1754: "Rules concerning Racing . . . A Handy-Cap Match, is for A, B, and C, to put an equal Sum into a Hat [detailed description of the procedure follows . . . he that has the Money in his Hand is intitled to the Deposit in the Hat. If a Match is made without the Weight being mentioned, each Horse must carry ten Stone."
b. Handicap race . . . : a horserace in which an umpire (the handicapper) decrees what weights have to be carried by the various horses entered, according to his judgement of their merits, in order to equalize their chances."

Sense 3: "Any race or competition in which the chances of the competitors are sought to be equalized by giving an advantage to the less efficient or imposing a disadvantage upon the more efficient."

Sense 4: "The extra weight or other condition imposed on a superior in favor of an inferior competitor in any athletic or other match; hence, any encumbrance or disability that weighs upon effort and makes success more difficult."