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Q From Rich Rothenberg: The word lope packs a lot into four letters: I always think of it as running in a loose, relaxed way, with an infinite reserve. Did it emerge from the American West, as a short form of antelope, or is it from the French loup meaning wolf, or something entirely different?

A It looks as though it might have a connection, but the similarities are accidental and it has nothing to do with either wolves or antelopes. In sense and etymology, lope is related to leap. It’s ancient, traceable to prehistoric Germanic. The Old English version of the word was hleapan, meaning to run, jump or throw oneself violently at something. This eventually changed into our modern leap, which kept the latter senses, but gave up the former to run, another ancient German word. In the fifteenth century, a Scots or northern English dialect relative of the Old English word moved into the standard language to form our modern lope, for the sense of running with a long bounding stride that has something of leaping about it. It’s also the source of elope, to run away to get married, and also possibly of interloper. This last word is said to have been coined in the sixteenth century on the model of the older and now obsolete landloper for a vagabond, somebody who “runs through the land”.

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Page created 04 Sep 1999