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What's the meaning of dip into?

Anyways, the guy I was describing earlier was in the bathroom at the sink and saw me dip into one of the stalls with the laptop.

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They must have meant slip into. Dip into, in this context, is not safe for electronic devices. –  John Lawler Jul 28 '12 at 20:42
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3 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

It's quite an uncommon usage for dip, but I wouldn't say it's "incorrect", or that the writer wasn't paying attention in his precise choice of words.

As John Lawler says, you could substitute slip (or duck, pop, nip, etc.). In context, they all mean the same - to go somewhere (usually into a smaller enclosed space than where you started from) for a brief period (often furtively or discretely).

Here are over 5000 written instances of the even more metaphoric "dip into the book". You can certainly dip into something without getting wet.

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If the guy in question were actually a low-flying swallow, then he could dip into the stall by dropping down to its level from above. Is “dip into the book” using dip into meaning “to sample, get a bit of a taste of” or “not to get too wet”? Hm, the last OED2 sens for dip v. gives “14. to dip into (a book, a subject of study): to enter slightly and briefly into a subject, without becoming absorbed or ‘buried’ in it; said especially of reading short passages here and there in a book, without continuous perusal. (Cf. skim, to read superficially and slightly but continuously.)” –  tchrist Jul 28 '12 at 22:02
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"It's just another day... slipping into stockings, stepping into shoes, dipping in the pockets of her raincoat..." –  cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Jul 28 '12 at 22:08
    
@tchrist: Exactly - to enter slightly and briefly. OP's "dip" is maybe stretching usage a bit - but not to breaking point, for me at least. Here's another –  FumbleFingers Jul 29 '12 at 0:02
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As an idiom, dip into usually means either to take a small amount from, e.g.

I dipped into my emergency fund to pay for my plane ticket.

…or to experience superficially, e.g.

I'm going to dip into that new novel to see if I might like it.

A usage like "dip into a stall" makes me think that the speaker was accidentally mixing the phrases duck into and slip into.

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Collins lists 18 definitions of the verb dip. Even though many of those meanings specify that you dip into a liquid, and I'm wondering if the dictionary won't add a 19th definition soon – something along the lines of:

to plunge or to move something into something else for a quick moment

I've been thinking about this usage of the word dip for the past month or so, every time I've gotten cash out of the new ATM at work.

Unlike the old machine, which had users swipe their card (or others I've seen, where users insert their cards), this new machine asks users to dip their card into the machine (i.e., insert the card, and then pull it out), before entering a PIN. As an EL&U enthusiast, I've been wondered about the opening message of this new machine for sometime:

Please dip your card into the reader to begin

Theo's question here prompted me to do some research on this usage of the word dip. Evidently, that verb has been used on the NYC subway system for some time. I found this in a 2008 blog:

One of the clerks took the [debit] card out of my hand, put it into the slot in the machine and let it sit there, as if that would work. Of course, we all know that you dip your card...

And then I found this on a 2009 discussion board (evidently, I'm not the only one initially puzzled by this use of the word dip):

enter image description here

This blogger actually wondered aloud if the slot's orientation was a crucial factor in using the word dip:

The next morning, we took the subway into Manhattan. At the station, we were buying a fare card at an automated dispenser, and paid with a credit card. When it was time to pay, the instructions on the screen said, “Dip your credit card.” But the slot to put the credit card into wasn’t vertical; it was horizontal! At gas stations where I live, this instruction is usually rendered as “Insert and withdraw credit card in one smooth motion.” In my lexical semantics, that meaning can only go with dip if the motion is vertical. The same goes for the programmers of the credit card readers, too, I think. Otherwise, why wouldn’t they opt for the four words of Dip your credit card over the eight words that I usually see? Is this a New York thing? A generational thing? Who else has noticed this semantic broadening?

One reader responded:

Dip's early meanings have to do with liquid (dye, baptism, immersion; cf. deep); since this sense of plunging downward into liquid has been sustained for its entire history, the word’s strong association with the vertical plane is inevitable. Could later figurative senses (e.g., dip into a book1; be dipped into controversy) have made it easier for dip to dip into other spatial possibilities?

Back to Theo's question: if one can dip a credit card into an ATM, or a NYC subway ticket dispenser – even when the slot is horizontal! – would it not be possible to dip into a bathroom stall as well? That is, slip in for a brief moment, and then step back out?

Interestingly enough, OED's Meaning 4c reads:

c. To penetrate, as by dipping; to dip into. rare.

If the editors of the OED spent a week riding New York City subway, perhaps they'd strike the word rare from Meaning 4c.


1About dip into a book, maybe this is a "later" use of the word, but the word has been used that way for some time; the OED cites two examples from 15th century.

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