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A round of applause is a short period or burst of applause. What are the origins of the meaning of round in this phrase, and indeed the phrase itself?

Are there any other phrases that use round in the same sense? I know of round of artillery and round of golf, for instance. For these phrases we might just as easily say an artillery round or golf round, but I don't think I've ever heard the expression applause round. So, do they have different meanings?

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  • 6. a. A complete course, succession, or series: a round of parties; a round of negotiations. (TFD)
    – Kris
    Nov 26, 2013 at 14:01

2 Answers 2

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Several of the meanings of round as a noun refer to something that is repeated. You would for instance have a round of drinks, and then have a round of drinks, and then have a round of drinks.

Applause can come in such repeated bursts with for example a show of several acts; act, applause, act, applause, or a series of speeches; speech, applause, speech, applause.

Now we would speak of a "round of applause" even if there was only one.

Likewise with firearms, "rounds" would once have been a more literal description when the time to reload meant that guns would be fired in more clearly defined volleys than they would be today. The word was extended from the act of firing, to the projectile itself.

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    I’m not so certain the repetition angle is really inherent to the word when talking about rounds of drinks or applause. Neither really needs to be repeated in any way, and I doubt they ever did. It seems more likely to me that the original meaning is that the applause/drinks make(s) it all the way through the group of people participating: it goes all around the crowd, so to speak. Nov 26, 2013 at 12:28
  • @JanusBahsJacquet with drinks the repetition is still strongly there at least in some regions; the etiquette of rounds being that members of a group take turns in buying a round for the whole group.
    – Jon Hanna
    Nov 26, 2013 at 13:53
  • That's pure GR! :)
    – Kris
    Nov 26, 2013 at 14:02
  • It is often there, but not necessarily. If someone in the local pub (why am I being forcefully reminded of Eastenders here?) says, “It’s my 60th birthday today, so I’m buying a round for everyone!”, there’s no real turn-taking. The thing that makes it a round, to me at least, is more the fact that it is something distributed over a group or crowd of participants, rather than something limited. Nov 26, 2013 at 14:02
  • @JanusBahsJacquet yes, but that is by extension as is my argument above that the current possibly singular "round of applause" originates in a repetitive, in your example the term comes from the etiquette of buying drinks in rounds. The expression "get your round in" in particular points to that, but even without, it's the turn-taking that gives us the sense in question.
    – Jon Hanna
    Nov 26, 2013 at 14:35
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Wordweb refers to Round(noun) as An interval during which a recurring sequence of events occurs.

Considering this during a speech, sequence of claps(applause) come intermitting the speech.

He got a big round(long interval) of applause when he said "My dear brothers & sisters of America."

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