Media inquiry: "a hop, skip and a jump"

Cohen, Gerald Leonard gcohen at MST.EDU
Tue Jul 22 21:56:11 UTC 2008

My thanks (and Brendan O'Connor's) to the replies drawing attention to the OED material on "a hop, skip and a jump."
After expressing his gratitude he adds:"I'm hoping someone might be able to discuss why 'a hop, skip (or step)
and a jump' is used to indicate a short distance."

Maybe the question should be: What was the original context for the expression? I.e., who (or what animal/bird) would have occasion to literally hop, skip/step and jump."  I will here venture a guess that the original context was the crossing of a creek by the use of stepping stones.  One would hop onto the first one, take another step onto the next and then jump to the other bank. We're dealing here of course with short distances; if the stream was wider and deeper or if a river had to be crossed, one would have to swim or take a boat.

But if one could cross with a hop, skip and a jump (i.e., with stepping stones), the distance of getting from point A to point B would necessarily be short.

As always, with such suggestions: fwiw.

Gerald Cohen
gcohen at


From: Bapopik [mailto:bapopik at]
Sent: Tue 7/22/2008 2:36 PM
To: OConnor, Brendan
Cc: Cohen, Gerald Leonard
Subject: Re: Media inquiry

I don't have much to add, but from the OED's entry (below), it's clear that the term pre-dates the Olympic triple jump.
By the way, there was a nice front-page article about 80-year-old track writer Jim Dunaway in last Sunday's Austin American-Statesman. You might want to contact him about track lingo--he seems to know all about track and field. (
--Barry Popik
Austin, Texas (formerly NYC) <>

hop, step, and jump (also hop, skip, and jump; hop, step, and leap, etc.).
a. as n. The action of making these three movements in succession; an athletic exercise in which the players try who can cover most ground with this sequence of movements. Also spec., as an athletic event, and transf. and fig. Also hop, step, and long jump. Hence hop, step, and jumper.
a1719 ADDISON <>  (J.), When my wings are on, I can go above a hundred yards at a hop, step, and jump. 1760 STERNE <>  Tr. Shandy (ed. 3) I. xii. 48 Yorick..would as often answer with a pshaw!{em}and if the subject was started in the fields{em}with a hop, skip, and a jump, at the end of it. 1785 BURNS <>  Holy Fair iii, The third cam up, hap{em}step{em}an' lowp, As light as ony lambie. 1810 SCOTT <>  Let. to Southey 20 May in Lockhart, I omitted no opportunity..of converting my dog-trot into a hop-step-and-jump. 1816 F. BURNEY <>  Lett. 2 Apr., Your kind father..instantly ran downstairs, with a hop, skip, and a jump. 1819 Blackw. Mag. V. 613/1 A match at hop-step-and-jump between Tickler and Dr. Scott. 1858 MAYH!
 EW <>  Upper Rhine v. ยง2 (1860) 265 It seems literally but a hop, skip, and a jump, from one..shelf of crags to the other. 1906 Westm. Gaz. 30 Apr. 7/1 The preliminaries of the hurdles, standing high jump, hop-step, and long jumps will also be decided. 1908 Times 7 July 16/5 July 25..10 a.m.{em}Athletics{em} hop, step, and jump. Ibid. 25 July 10/1 The hop, step, and jump fell to the United Kingdom, when an Irishman, T. J. Ahearne, created a British record of 48 ft. 11 in. 1909 Daily Chron. 24 Sept. 9/3 The hop-step-and-long-jump handicap. 1928 Observer 17 June 28/4 The only hop, step, and jumper of quality. 1935 Encycl. Sports 349/2 Hop-Step-and-Jump, Athletic event, of very ancient practice in the North of the British Isles. Now included in the Olympic Games, it has become the object of much specialization. Known also as the hop, skip and jump. 1961 CHAPMAN <>  & AB!
 RAHAMS <>  Trac
k & Field Athletics x. 71 It is not often that a Hop, Step and Jump athlete is able to use the more efficient Hitch-kick long jump action. 1966 Publ. Amer. Dial. Soc. XLVI. 21 The paper had to be a hop, skip, and jump through the various sorts of annotations that Schele De Vere had made.
    b. attrib. or as adj. Of the nature of, or characterized by, such a saltatory motion. Also fig.
1783 WOLCOTT <>  (P. Pindar) Odes to R.A.'s vi. Wks. 1812 I. 62 A hop and step and jump mode of inditing. 1808 SCOTT <>  Autobiog. in Lockhart (1837) I. i. 44 Surprise that, after such a hop-step-and-jump perusal, I knew as much of the book. 1869 F. B. PALLISER <>  Brittany 248 The dancers..sidle round in a kind of hop-skip-and-a-jump step. 1895-6 Calend. Univ. Nebraska 233 It is not designed to give a hop-skip-and-jump star lecture course.

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