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Apparently this is a peculiarly British term, but we'll sometimes use the phrase 'slap-up' to mean 'excellent', as in:

That's a slap-up meal!

or

They held a slap-up do.

What's the origin of the term slap-up? Nothing obvious comes to mind.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

This comes originally from a Dickens novel (he probably used a common expression of the time). He used the expression "Slap-bang" to indicate a cheap meal. Apparently it was "Slap-bang" because people would "bang" the money down for the meal.

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To extend your answer: The term slap-down and bang-down were common at the time and, as you point out, the term slap-bang was a term used for a cheap eatery. This seems to have evolved over time from slap-down as a negative adjective into slap-up as a positive one (and also bang-up, as a more general form) For reasons still obscure to me slap-up is reserved for food whilst bang-up more often refers to a job well done (a bang-up job). –  Andy F Feb 17 '11 at 21:07

The earliest meaning of slap up was to eat. Later it also meant to eat or drink in a hurry, and around the same time meant something exceedingly good.

Could the meaning transferred because a very good meal might be eaten quickly?


The 1898 Wit, character, folklore & customs of the North Riding of Yorkshire; with a glossary of over 4,000 words and idioms now in use defines it:

>**Slap up,** *v.* To eat or drink in a hurry. **Slap-up,** *adj.* First-class, exceedingly good.   Ex. — *He's gitten a slap-up t'on-oot. Noo that's a slap-upper if ya leyke.*

The earlier 1828 Dialect of Craven, in the westriding of the County of York has the former meaning:

3. "To *slap* up," to swallow greedily to dispatch a meal. "He *slapt* up his porridge in a trice," il avala sa soupe dans un moment. *Miege*. To *slappe* up Licher, lapper. *Cotgrave.*

This meaning to swallow is found in a 1709 French-English dictionary, a 1673 dictionary has it meaning to sustain, to support (possibly also meaning to eat) and in 1660 to lick. The swallow, eat meaning is printed in several English-French, -Danish, -Swedish, -Italian and Welsh dictionaries.


The exceedingly good meaning can be found in two 1823 slang dictionaries. Classical dictionary of the vulgar tongue by Francis Grose:

slap-up

And second, in Slang by John Badcock, where bang-up is defined "quite in fashion, at the top of the mode. All right.":

slap-up

The first non-dictionary use describes an exceptional boxing match in an 1821 Sporting Magazine:

slap up battle

The next use in prose I found is 1828's How to live in London:

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gave 250 guineas for what he terms his "slap-up turnout," (i.e. handsome cabriolet, with a blood chesnut mare, 15 hands 3 inches, harness, &c.)

Some slightly later books apply slap-up to describe someone's fine clothes.

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Both Partridge and Green have "slap-up" meaning "first-rate, of superior quality". The earliest reference they cite is from 1829, a little early for Dickens. The "slap-bang shop", a restaurant where one paid in advance, is earlier still (1796), cited in the Lexicon Balatronicum of 1811.

I would think that Green's earliest reference to "slap", the proceeds of a robbery, is the source of the phrase; that first appeared in 1790, apparently.

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Is 1829 a typo? I expect Partridge and Green both found the definitions in each of Grose and Badcock's slang dictionaries, both 1823. –  Hugo Feb 7 '12 at 15:39
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@Hugo, the source cited in Green is "On the Prigging Lay", a translation of "Un jour a la Croix Rouge"; see here. –  Brian Hooper Feb 7 '12 at 19:18
    
Thanks. And it appears a second time in that translation, on the next page. –  Hugo Feb 7 '12 at 20:09

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