Further, “rap” in this sense is not an acronym of “Record of Arrest and Prosecution”, though has since been backronymed as such. The reality is that the meaning of “rap” in “bad rap” evolved from the original meaning of the word “rap”, which first popped up around the 14th century meaning “strike or blow”, likely of onomatopoeic origins.
By the 17th century, “rap’s” meaning had been extended from “a sharp blow” to also mean “a sharp criticism or complaint” (likely from the fact that a criticism or complaint can be a metaphorical blow). Within two centuries this latter definition of “rap” gave rise to another definition: “a criminal charge” or “punishment”. For instance, in a March of 1865 edition of the Atlantic Monthly, we have:
He who has the bad taste to meddle with the caprices of believers…gets the rap and the orders of dismissal.
This usage gave rise to the phrases like “bad rap”, “rap sheet”, “beat the rap”, etc.
- The word “rap” came to be used as a name for “rap music” through yet another definition of “rap” that came about around the 19th century. At this time, “rap” came to also mean “talk/chat”, then later a “lively banter or debate”. In the 20th century, this gave rise to a form of impromptu performance poetry being called “rapping” as early as the 1970s, which in turn gave rise to the name “rap music” to describe a type of music with rhythmic spoken lyrics.
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