Kipling uses the word that way in “A Friend’s Friend”, Plain Tales from the Hills, 1888. The fictional Kipling takes his guest Jevon to a ball, and Jevon gets hopelessly drunk, annoys everybody, and is embarrassing Kipling. Then Kipling goes on:

I set him [Jevon] in a quiet corner of the supper-room, and went to find a wall-prop that I could trust. There was a good and kindly Subaltern ― may Heaven bless that Subaltern, and make him a Commander-in-Chief! ― who heard of my trouble. He was not dancing himself, and he owned a head like five-year-old teak-baulks. He said that he would look after Jevon till the end of the ball.

The Kipling Society confirms that a wall-prop is a non-dancer who leans against a wall.

Now, I haven’t been able to find the word used that way anywhere else. So did Kipling coin it himself and it didn’t catch on, or was it used with that meaning somewhere?

  • 2
    It didn't catch on because it was beaten off by wallflower A shy or excluded person at a dance or party, especially a girl without a partner Dec 23 '15 at 15:37
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers: Was wallflower used to refer to men in those days, or to women only?
    – Jacinto
    Dec 23 '15 at 15:43
  • It still is used of men/boys - as in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I can't recall if Charlie (the gawky teenage central character) is ever shown hanging around the walls at a dance, but it's still essentially the same usage. Dec 23 '15 at 17:32

I would call them a "wallflower".

  • wallflower (noun) - "a person who, because of shyness, unpopularity, or lack of a partner, remains at the side at a party or dance." MW

Edit - I've never seen or heard "wall-prop" used as a synonym for "wallflower".

  • 2
    I suppose I would to. But I'm asking about the use of wall-prop, not for alternatives to it.
    – Jacinto
    Dec 23 '15 at 16:22
  • I couldn't find it anywhere with that meaning either. Couple it with dance, and google returns stage props! But there is no doubt Kipling uses it to mean a non-dancer. It looks as though wallflower was not even used for men in those days.
    – Jacinto
    Dec 23 '15 at 17:08
  • @Jacinto: Both wall-prop and wallflower are trivially transparent metaphoric usages, which most native speakers would understand (in context) even if they'd never heard them before. It wouldn't be inconceivable that Kipling actually coined his usage, and that no-one ever copied it. (Well, probably neither of those propositions are true, but you see what I mean.) Dec 23 '15 at 17:37
  • ...fwiw, the only matching instances of either a wall-prop or a wallprop in Google Books are Kipling's usage. I still think it's fairly unlikely he actually "coined" the term, but that does tend to support the hypothesis. Anyway, it's not really "a term" as one would normally understand it. Dec 23 '15 at 17:42
  • @FumbleFingers I know, I had looked it up already. I think it's more likely that usage was current at the time too, among Anglo-Indians at least,
    – Jacinto
    Dec 23 '15 at 17:52

Wallprop is not common enough to show up in a Google ngram search.

In V. Orlando's Screening Morocco: Contemporary Film in a Changing Society, the term appears on page 82:

"Even if you study, you'll be an unemployed broke ass like us," says one "Haïtiste" (literally a "wall prop") to another as he stands against a graffitied wall in a disaffected “derb” (neighborhood) of the coastal town of Agadir.

The next page goes into more detail on the term:

"Haïtiste" is derived from the Arabic word Haït, which means "wall." In street slang, a Haïtiste is a sort of rung in the ladder of human regression ... a young man who doesn't do anything during the day and who spends his time leaning up against a wall ... A man conquered in the field of survival and who fails in the worldwide dump of those left to fend for themselves.

This goes a little further than merely one who doesn't have the energy to dance at the moment, but it fits with the excerpt you posted. Perhaps Kipling was familiar with the Arabic term and used the English translation?

The word Haïtiste is also the title of the Arabic Wikipedia page for a medical stent, so it is in current use.

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