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?
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It only takes a minute to sign up.Sign up to join this community
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.
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.