It’s Bad Rap, Not Bad Wrap

Now You KnowYou should know that the expression to describe when someone is falsely convicted of a criminal charge or is on the receiving end of unjustified criticism is “bad rap”, not “bad wrap”.

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.

Bonus Fact:

  • 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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  • Actually, when I first started hearing this is the 70’s and it was Rep (short for reputation). Since that time it has been co-opted by those that offer it as a Legal acronym. According to Oxford English Dictionary “Some have used rap as an acronym for record of arrests and prosecutions, but while you can find this in police manuals and forms, it is a “backronym” and not the origin of the term.”

  • I’ve now read several of your posts and have noticed you, like a lot of bloggers and web writers, use the word “lead” as the past tense of “lead”. I don’t know if this is an American phenomenon or a syntax error but I do know that in English the past tense of “lead” is “led”. The word spelt as “lead” and pronounced “led” is defined as the metal with the symbol Pb.

    • Right you are, Barb. I see this every day, along with then and than, ad and add, and numerous others which will come to mind just as soon as I tap “Post Comment”.