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noun [countable] informal

a laptop computer (= small computer that you can carry with you)

'I pack tons of clothes (so I could have my mix/match options) and gadgets (2 cell phones, lappy, a tablet, videocam and external hard drive).'

Manila Bulletin 9th November 2011

'Apple has cut the price of the iPad 2, select lappys and iPods, as part of the retail bonanza that is Black Friday.'

uSwitch 25th November 2011

There are many of us for whom rest and relaxation just wouldn't be the same without that black box in the corner of the living room. All we need to do is flick the switch and we're instantly entertained from the comfort of our sofa. Yes, I'm talking about the television of course, that piece of electrical equipment which is such a significant part of our everyday world that we've even got an affectionate abbreviation for it – our beloved telly.

the majority of us just can't imagine life without daily access to a personal computer, and so it's logical that language might reflect our familiarity with it in a similar way

But hey, it's the 21st century and the TV has a rival, it's not the only 'black box' in the home vying for our attention. The majority of us just can't imagine life without daily access to a personal computer, and so it's logical that language might reflect our familiarity with it in a similar way. It appears to have done this, to some extent at least, in the form of the new abbreviation lappy.

Lappy is an informal short form for the word laptop, that personal computer of portable dimensions that we all know and love. It's interesting because, despite the overwhelming importance and transformation of computing during the past 50 years, it appears to be the first quasi-affectionate reference to a computer that has fallen into popular use. Language has reflected developments in the technology, so that back in the eighties we were talking about things like mainframe computers, those that could do the actual programming stuff (and were usually the size of a small room!) and word processors, machines that we might be lucky enough to have at home but whose capability was largely restricted to writing documents.

By the nineties it was possible to have a computer of some level of sophistication that was small enough to be used and owned by an individual, hence our use of the expression personal computer or PC. Our thoughts then turned to the PC's location, as it was possible to decrease its size to the extent it could be carried around, leading to the need to make a distinction between a desktop, laptop and even palmtop. Into the noughties the range of possibilities in respect of size and function grew even wider, giving us for instance the notebook, netbook and, one of the newer kids on the block, the tablet (now often referred to as tab). And yet through all these developments there have been no affectionate terms of reference … until now. Why then lappy, as opposed to e.g. desky? Just another quirk of language use and, who knows, maybe the forerunner of a whole new trend so that soon we'll be talking about a tabby

Background – lappy

The first use of lappy as an abbreviation for laptop dates back to the very early noughties, though wider use of the term has only really been visible in the last year or so, usually in informal contexts such as Internet blog or forum posts, etc. There's evidence for both lappys and lappies as a plural form.

I'm guessing lappy takes inspiration from terms like telly and tranny, used mainly in British English to refer respectively to the TV and transistor radio, though the latter is now practically obsolete, leading to the chief sense of tranny becoming something quite different (i.e. a transvestite, also spelt trannie).

There seems to be no identifiable pattern or logic to which British English adopts these kind of 'cute' terms – why baccy for tobacco, for instance, but not vaccy for vacuum cleaner? And like many creative uses of language, they can often be short-lived – take moby for example, which a decade or more ago was a popular reference to a mobile phone, but now seems to have fallen out of favour.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 5th December 2011.

Open Dictionary

Dunning-Kruger effect

the phenomenon by which an incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence

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