clap skate


variants or less commonly clapskate
plural clap skates also clapskates
: an ice skate used in speed skating that has its blade attached to the boot only at the front by a spring-loaded hinge which allows the heel of the boot to separate from the blade of the back foot as the skater moves forward
In the past two winters, speed skating has been revolutionized by a clap skate that allows skaters to go so much faster that they have rewritten the entire record book.Frank Litsky, New York Times, 7 Apr. 1998

Word History


borrowed from Dutch klapschaats, from klap "smack, blow, clap" (going back to Middle Dutch clap "clatter, chatter," noun derivative of clappen "to clap, knock, chatter," going back to a Germanic imitative base *klapp-) + schaats skate entry 2

Note: The clap skate was developed by a group of biophysicists and engineers at the Free University of Amsterdam during the first half of the 1980's, led by biomechanist Gerrit Jan van Ingen Schenau (1944-98). An early print appearance of the word klapschaats was in a newspaper article, "Van koebeen tot klapschaats" by Jaap van Kouterik (De Waarheid, October 18, 1985, p. 7). The inventors do not seem to have recorded exactly what the klap part of the compound was meant to indicate in reference to the skate—or at least evidence of such from the early period of the skate's development has yet to emerge. Several sources, both in English and Dutch, suggest that klap refers to the sound made when the hinged blade and the shoe reconnect in the course of a stroke, but this explanation has been disputed: "The name expresses the fact that the skate makes it possible when taking off to give a further push or clap, which affects speed: the skate then remains on the ice while the skater completely extends his legs—something not possible with a conventional skate. Hence the name does not allude to the fact that the skate makes a clapping sound, as had been thought." ("De naam drukt uit dat de schaats het mogelijk maakt om bij het afzetten een zetje of klap na te geven, wat invloed heeft op de snelheid: de schaats staat dan namelijk nog op het ijs, terwijl de schaatser zijn been helemaal gestrekt heeft, wat bij een gewone schaats onmogelijk is. De naam verwijst dus niet naar het feit dat de schaats een klappend geluid maakt, zoals wel gedacht wordt." - Nicoline van der Sijs, Klein Uitleenwoordenboek, Den Haag: Sdu, 2006). As an English equivalent of klapschaats the inventors of the skate introduced the word slapskate: "Since, according to the observed sequence in the onset of knee extension and plantar flexion in jumping, and sprinting, this skate should allow to slap on an extra plantar flexion at the end of the push off in speed skating as well we christened the skate 'slapskate'" (Gerrit Jan van Ingen Schenau, et al., "A new skate allowing powerful plantar flexions improves performance," Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, vol. 28, no. 4 [1996], pp. 531-35). Despite this imprimatur slapskate never gained currency in English.

First Known Use

1997, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of clap skate was in 1997

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Cite this Entry

“Clap skate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 15 Jul. 2024.

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