Dear Straight Dope:
What is the origin of the term "loophole"? My Dad told me it was the name for those slits in castle walls through which archers would shoot their arrows, but I can't see how that has anything to do with our current use of the term.
Left wanting in Wayne, PA
Strangely enough, your dad is correct. Most dictionaries make mention of the slit-like openings in castle walls that were used by archers (later, musketeers) to defend the castle. Our derivation of “loophole” as a way past a law is derived from this. The only openings in a seemingly impenetrable wall were these slits, which a child or small adult child could squeeze through. Thus, a loophole is a small opening, or “out,” in a seemingly airtight law, which only the clever few can use.
Send questions to Cecil via email@example.com.
STAFF REPORTS ARE WRITTEN BY THE STRAIGHT DOPE SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD, CECIL'S ONLINE AUXILIARY. THOUGH THE SDSAB DOES ITS BEST, THESE COLUMNS ARE EDITED BY ED ZOTTI, NOT CECIL, SO ACCURACYWISE YOU'D BETTER KEEP YOUR FINGERS CROSSED.