claptrap

“Claptrap” is pretentious nonsense.

It first appeared in print in Nathan Bailey’s dictionary of 1721 and his definition explains the word very well. “A Clap Trap, a name given to the rant and rhimes that dramatick poets, to please the actors, let them get off with: as much as to say, a trap to catch a clap, by way of applause from the spectators at a play.”

Other writers agreed that such nonsense had no place on the stage. One such writer in The New-England Magazine in 1835, fulminated against the star system that was contributing to the decline of the modern drama, and complained that in order to feed the performance of the lead actor, “The piece must abound in clap-traps.” An article in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in 1855 about a new play said, “All the clap-traps of the press were employed to draw an audience to the first representation.”

Claptrap appears in other venues than theater. In 1867, in London, England, Thomas Wright wrote in Some Habits and Customs of the Working Classes that: “The Waggoner’s entertainment, of course, embraced the usual unauthenticated statistics, stock anecdotes, and pieces of clap-trap oratory of the professional teetotal lecturers.”

In the middle of the1800s, someone invented a mechanical clapper that made a noise like that of applause. Presumably it was similar to a football rattle. This also was called a claptrap.

From there we’ve progressed to laugh-tracks. Big sigh.

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