What is the origin of the expression stop-gap?

stop-gap: A temporary way of dealing with a problem or satisfying a need

Where and how did this expression originate?

  • There is a gap somewhere. As a temporary "fix" you jamb something into the gap to close it. It's a stop-gap. Might do it in a leaky boat, might do it in the wall of a house, might do it in a holey bucket. And, of course, the metaphor caught on and carried to many other situations. – Hot Licks Dec 11 '16 at 22:25

According to dictionary.com, stopgap is an adjectival use of the verb phrase "stop a gap" (meaning, essentially, plug a hole) and emerged around 1525-1535.

Merriam-Webster, though, has the first known use as 1684.

Google Ngrams shows "stopgap" appearing briefly in the 1700s and disappearing again until the middle of the 1800s, at which point its use took off pretty dramatically, with a slight taper in the past 60 years.

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  • The Ngram link has gone bad, but here is a newer one. – Hot Licks Dec 12 '16 at 0:18
  • And I'll note that many of the early uses appear to use the term in the sense of filling in a gap in time, as with a temporary committee member. (Though this may be a slant that occurs simply because of the types of documents indexed.) – Hot Licks Dec 12 '16 at 1:19

At the bottom of staircases in old farmhouses can often be found 2 vertical slots at either side of the bottom tread. This was so that a plank of wood could be slotted in to prevent animals, often allowed into the ground floor of the house, from venturing up stairs. It was temporary to "stop the gap" - a stop gap.

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  • Welcome to the site @CMann. Do you have any sources for your claim? – OldBunny2800 Dec 11 '16 at 23:35
  • And how would this lead to the metaphoric meaning of "stop gap" as an ad-hoc "temporary fix", since the slots are presumably permanent, and the scheme took some advance planning? – Hot Licks Dec 12 '16 at 0:14

Stop gap,from the use of a large piece of wet timber put in front of the gap on a bread oven,abit like a pizza oven,it was the whole in the front of the oven called the gape which the piece of wood,the stop was placed

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