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How did the adverbial use of "smack" come into use? For example: "smack in the middle" or "smack in front" of something etc.

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2 Answers 2

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There are several similar phrases, all related to one another: smack dab, slap dab, smack bang, slap bang. They may be hyphenated or not.

Slap and smack, and bang and dab combine indicate a noise and suddenness.

OED

smack-dab, adv.

Forms: Also smack dab.

Etymology: < smack v. + dab adv.

U.S. dialect and colloquial.

Exactly, precisely; with a smack. Cf. slap-dab adv.

1892 Dial. Notes 1 232 He hit him smack dab in the mouth.

slap-dab

North American dialect and colloquial.
slap-dab = slap-bang adv. Cf. smack-dab adv.

1886 Turf, Field & Farm XLII. 174/3 He was goin' that fas' he run slap-dab agin me afo' he seed me.

dab, adv.

Etymology: The verb-stem or noun used elliptically.
With a dab, or sudden contact.

1600 R. Armin Foole vpon Foole sig. C2v Hee droopt downe..as heauy as if a leaden Plummet..had fallen on the earth dab. [He dropped down…as heavily like a lead weight suddenly falling to the ground.]

slap, adv.

Etymology: < Low German slapp (German schlapp), of imitative origin.

colloquial.

1. With, or as with, a slap or smart quick blow; quickly, suddenly, without warning or notice: a. In general use (frequently parenthetic); also with off, down.

1672 Duke of Buckingham Rehearsal iii. 21 First one speaks, then presently t'others upon him slap, with a Repartee.

Smack (verb)

7. Used with adverbial force.

a. With, or as with, a smack; suddenly and violently; slap. Also with down, through, etc.

1782 W. Cowper Hist. John Gilpin in Public Advertiser 14 Nov.
Smack went the Whip, round went the Wheels.

1799 King George IV in Paget Papers (1896) I. 150
He..tumbled..smack on his face.

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According to Etymonline the adverbial usage of smack is quite old (late 18th c.) probably as a figurative extension of its original verbal usage.

smack(adv.)

"suddenly, directly, aggressively, plump, straight," 1782, from smack (v.1); the extended form smack-dab is attested from 1892, American English colloquial (slap-dab is from 1886).

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