Posted by: Jack Henry | September 3, 2019

Editor’s Corner: Bully and Stopgap

Good morning, folks!

A couple of you have written in asking me to provide some information on words and phrases you’ve heard and where they might come from. You ask, I answer.

First, regarding an article I recently sent out about word meanings changing. One of the words was bully, which went from meaning sweetie or heartthrob to harasser. The question was, what about the phrase “Bully for you,” which means “good for you.” Is that from the older meaning? Writing Explained says:

In the 1500s and 1600s, the word bully meant an excellent person. Nowadays, bully usually means someone who hurts those weaker than oneself.

The original, positive meaning is still preserved in the idiom bully for you…which means…good for you; how brave.

Occasionally, this expression is used to praise someone sincerely. However, this usage is not incredibly common in the present day.

Nowadays, this expression is often sarcastic. A person might use this if he or she thinks that someone’s story is boring or not very good.

The other question I received was, “Where did the term ‘stopgap’ come from?” First, the meaning of stopgap, from


something that fills the place of something else that is lacking; temporary substitute; makeshift. For example: Candles are a stopgap when the electricity fails.


makeshift. For example: This is only a stopgap solution.

The Online Etymology Dictionary says:

1680s, from stop (v.) + gap (n.); the notion probably being of something that plugs a leak, but it may be in part from gap (n.) in a specific military sense "opening or breach in defenses by which attack may be made (1540s). Also as an adjective from 1680s.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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