Clap trap

Posted by Henry on December 13, 2004

In Reply to: Bells and clappers posted by SR on December 13, 2004

: : : : : : "Run like the clappers.." apparently means 'flee in haste'. (I saw it in a Guardian story on volcanic lightning.) But for us old US sorts, what does 'the clappers' mean?

: : : : : It has to do with the ringing of a bell.
: : : : : Definition:
: : : : : clapper - noun [C]
: : : : : a piece of metal which hangs inside a bell and makes the bell ring when it hits the sides
: : : : : (from Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary)
: : : : : SR

: : : : For more information, search the archives under "clappers."

: : : : In West Virginia, if someone was running fast, he was "splitting the mud."

: : : I've never been persuaded that clappers referred to bells. It's plural too. I don't think that a peal of bells has ever been a particularly common sight - even bell ringers can't see the bells in the belfry. Individual bells don't swing very quickly, although a belfry appears a busy place when all the bells are in action.

: : : Another possibility, though now archaic, seems to have escaped consideration. Country boys were once employed to scare birds from arable fields. They used wooden clappers, rather like castanets. Imagine the noise when the boys ran towards the birds shaking their clappers. This was once a familiar sight and seems an appropriate image for 'going like the clappers'.

: : Very interesting, but seems unlikely. Pepys, 1660 (19 May), does refer to this practice of boys frightening birds with a clapper. But OED shows that the sl phrase "like the clappers" was used with other verbs, e.g. work like ~, rain like ~, and ascribes it to modern forces slang.

: I remember as an altar boy at mass during Lent, we used wooden clappers in place of bells.

'Rain like the clappers' certainly doesn't have any obvious connection to bells. 'Like the clappers' seems to be associated in the forces with intense activity. It's not clear whether the usage gained popularity in the forces or originated there.

It's interesting to learn that people still have personal memories of clappers in common usage. Is it significant? I admit the case is not proven for rattles, but I think I'd lean towards them rather than bells.