Why and when did the word hop become used in reference to a dance?

Historyspaces claims Milwaukee and beer.

Others mention Lindy Hop (Charles Lindberg, 1920s) and sock hops (1950s).

The earliest reference I’ve seen is from etymonline with this intriguing entry:

This word [hop] has always been used here as in England as a familiar term for dance; but of late years it has been employed among us in a technical sense, to denote a dance where there is less display and ceremony than at regular balls. [Bartlett, "Dictionary of Americanisms," 1848]

  • 3
    Please include the research you’ve done. Questions that can be answered using commonly-available references are off-topic. Missing a relevant part of a reference is not good on a site aimed at linguists. May 19, 2018 at 14:38
  • If you’re looking for a specific time or place or coining, please say so. Otherwise how could any dictionary or etymology stuff be needed, please? Can you name any Germanic language that doesn’t accept a “hop” is a “dance” because somewhere in between the two people jump up, down or round about? May 26, 2018 at 21:08
  • Of possible interest: the dance-related definition of hop in Johnson's Dictionary (1755), which the entry in Bartlett's Dictionary of Americanisms (1848) alludes to, reads as follows: "A place where meaner people dance." So the usage at that date appears to have had a class-conscious edge consistent with the "less display and ceremony" sense in Bartlett.
    – Sven Yargs
    May 29, 2018 at 3:14
  • Also, A New Canting Dictionary (1725): "HOP-Merchant, a Dancing-Master." And Bee, Slang (1823): "Hop—a contra-dance of ordinary persons and promiscuous company is 'a hop,' and 'a penny-hop' from the price formerly paid for admission."
    – Sven Yargs
    May 29, 2018 at 3:47

4 Answers 4


The Online Etymology Dictionary also says, under (v.1):

Old English hoppian "to spring, leap; to dance; to limp," from Proto-Germanic *hupnojan (source also of Old Norse hoppa "hop, skip," Dutch huppen, German hüpfen "to hop").

And, under (n.3):

Slang sense of "informal dancing party" is from 1731 (defined by Johnson as "a place where meaner people dance").

Also confirmed by the American Heritage Dictionary:

  1. Informal A dance or dance party.

[Middle English hoppen, from Old English hoppian.]

As these definitions of the word hop meaning dance go back to the 18th century, Old English and maybe even Proto-Germanic, it would suggest that the Milwaukee/hops story is an example of folk etymology.

Similarly, specific types of dances (Lindy Hop or a Sock Hop) were just derived from the pre-existing word for a dance.

Note that the Only Etymology dictionary also says, under dance:

"dance" words frequently are derived from words meaning "jump, leap"

Wiktionary provides the following definition for Old English hoppian:

to hop, spring, leap, dance


The OED attests to the slang or colloquial use of hop to mean a dance; a dancing-party, esp. of an informal or unceremonious kind, from 1731:

1731 Read's Weekly Jrnl. 9 Jan. — Near an hundred people of both sexes..dancing to the musick of two sorry fiddles..it was called a three-penny hop.

The event follows from the act, and the OED has hop used humorously of a leap or step in dancing from at least 1579:

1579 S. Gosson Schoole of Abuse f. 15v — He gaue dauncers great stipends for selling their hopps.

This noun, in turn, derives from the verb to hop, i.e. to spring or leap especially on one foot, which goes all the way back to Old English hoppian.


According to “An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language”;

to hop:

To dance. Hop is used in this sense, according to the account which Walsingham (1532 - 1590) gives of what Wallace said to his troops, when he had drawn them up in order of battle;

  • Dicens eis patria lingua: I haif brocht you to the King, hop gif you can.

The notion of dancing is often expressed in different languages with verbs which refers to “leap/jump” as explained in the following piece by Antoly Lieberman:

For instance, Latin salire meant “dance,” while its frequentative form saltare meant “leap” (compare Engl. saltation and somersault). Some of the older Germanic verbs for “dance” were Old Engl. tumbian (still recognizable from tumble; it migrated to the Romance speaking lands, and in French it ended up as tomber “to fall”), hoppian (obviously, today’s hop), and sealtian, a borrowing of saltare.


Could Hop not simply just be reveled back at the very beginnings of time in just the sounding of the word?

hop https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hop Middle English hoppe, from Middle Dutch; akin to Old High German hopfo hop First Known Use of hop 1572

I think of it in terms as this; The mere sounding of the word is akin to movement, Say hop three times fast; it sounds like a song. From the beginning of alcohol consumption we've been brewing beer from hops. I believe your connection could be found in there. But I also don't think it is something that can pinpointed down exactly. I like to refer to these as generational coin phrases. They interchange over time in accordance with the rest of society. It would have started with essentially; a saying between men; which was later adapted from word of mouth and the majorities liking of the metaphorical cookie so to speak. How could we ever pin down the precise moment of a vocabulary exchange which; at that moment the source of those words hadn't idea of their future depth and/or influence. We don't know when we give birth to coin phrases we simply speak them. That original cookie andis gone we only move to it. I don't think there's a way to trace the initial baker. All that is left in evidence of the baker are crumbs.

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