lap and length

Frank Abate abatefr at EARTHLINK.NET
Thu Oct 24 16:44:27 UTC 2002

Peter Mc. said and asked:

I've always wondered whether a lap in swimming was a one-way trip or a
round trip, but I always seemed to be in the water when I wondered that,
and didn't have a dictionary handy.  Consulting my AHD when this thread
started didn't help: it only mentions a complete circuit of a running
track.  I ASSUME the swimming equivalent would be a round-trip: if so, then
a length would be half a lap, and the two words would refer to different
things rather than being regional variants.  Is that what you mean by
"'length' never means 'lap'," Frank?

As to this, "lap" is used -- at swim meets, at least -- to mean 'passage in
one direction for one length of the pool', and never means 'round trip'.  So
what I meant was that "length" does not mean 'lap' in my idiolect, as
regards its use at swim meets.  And I now add that "lap" never means 'round
trip', that is, 2 single passages down or lengths of the pool.

I should have added that "length" is used, casually and outside of swim
meets, to mean 'passage in one direction for one length of the pool'.  Made
up example: "She swam 16 lengths of the pool as a morning workout".  That
would mean 16 **laps**, not round trips or circuits.  In a 25-yard pool, "16
lengths/laps" = 400 yards.  So in this casual usage "lap" is equivalent to

It would be revealing to see corpus evidence for "length(s)", to see how
often it is followed by the words "of the pool".  Jesse (in your abundant
spare time)?

Frank Abate

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