Friday’s Phrase – Hop, Skip, and Jump

Welcome to the weekly series “Friday’s Phrase”. A whimsical and informative look at the idioms, phrases, proverbs and colloquialisms we commonly use, what they mean, and where they came from.

This week’s phrase:           hop, skip and a jump

I recently spoke these words and I know I have heard them before. But as rarely as I have heard them or said them, begged the question of why both I and the listener knew exactly what they conveyed.

Current accepted meaning:

informal noun

a short distance: not far or distant

The laundry is just a hop, skip and a jump away.

Historical Recorded Use:

Researching first recorded use held more intrigue than the original rarity of the idiom’s frequency. The origins of the phrase predate the advent of printing in a region where hand-written history and writings are scarce. Suffice it to say, that whenever the first recorded use of the phrase, it was so commonly used its writing did not coin the idiom. We, this week, get a phrase born of true history.


Some histories would have you believe that the triple jump of today is a remnant from the ancient Greek Olympic Games, first established in 684 B.C. But this is a failure to recognize that only the long jump was originally practiced in the ancient games. It was not till the Modern Olympic Games of 1896 in Athens that a standardized form resembling a hop, skip and a jump was introduced. In fact, the event was called just that, the Hop, Skip, and Jump (or the Hop, Step, and Jump) for many years. Only in the past few decades it has morphed into being referred to as the Triple Jump. As a group, the Triple Jump and Long Jump are categorized as the Horizontal Jumps today.

Though this phrase does not harken to ancient Greece as a birthright, it does easily predate its world stage in the Modern Olympics. First begun by order of King Malcom III of Scotland (c. 1031 – 1093), to find the fastest runners for messengers and strongest, bravest of soldiers, the Highland Games included a feat of prowess called the hop, skip, and leap. A test of speed and ability to quickly navigate a strewn and littered battlefield.

When the Scottish people fell under British oppression by law, in the Proscription Act of 1746 (repealed in 1782), and later a brutal process of evictions, the 18th and 19th Highland Clearances, the Celtic and Caledonian cultures were spread around the world. Enclaves of migrants popped up in countries across the globe, bringing with them a celebration of their culture. By 1836, organized Highland Games had begun in the U.S. There was less standardization of technique, as some competitions offered an additional step, allowing the jumper to use their strongest leg for all three steps. But nonetheless, it had become a common feat of prowess enough to be standardized and introduced in the first Modern Olympics by 1896.

Bonus History: (provided at no extra charge)

Although the origins date to an event born in the mid-9th century, it is not till 1507 that we see the use of the printing press in Scotland. Prior to that, hand-written parchment and scrolls of record in Scotland are notoriously scant, extremely fragile, incredibly hard to access for research online, and written in ancient Gaelic. You will have to settle for informative, rather than precise this time.

One Response to “Friday’s Phrase – Hop, Skip, and Jump”
  1. It’s quite interesting how the idioms we use today without a second thought are all steeped in such great history! Thanks for sharing this!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: