Wednesday, August 05, 2009


Ted from Port of Old Mission asked about the word pip. He didn’t give me a context, but I’m fairly sure that he would have run across it used as the name of the dots or symbols found on playing cards, dice, or dominoes. The origin is not certain. Suggestions include derivation from a word meaning “small seed,” from a word meaning “an eye,” or from the pippin -- an apple characterized by small spots.

Complicating things is the fact that the word has at least five meanings as a noun and five as a verb, most of them coming from disparate sources.

• a respiratory disease of birds
• the seeds of various fleshy fruits
• the dots or symbols found on playing cards, dice, or dominoes
• an arbitrary syllable used for the letter p in telephone communications and in the oral transliteration of code messages.
• a short, high-pitched electronic tone used as a signal

• to remove the scale from the tongue of a fowl affected with the pip
• to chirp
• to defeat narrowly or to disqualify
• to crack the shell of an egg when hatching
• to emit a radio or telephone signal

SIDEBAR: Gladys Knight and the Pips

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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