Prop, Props, and Props To

By Maeve Maddox

Facebook postings often educate me in current usage. A recent discovery comes from this comment about a television show called Shark Tank:

Georges’ caring nature steals the show and the hearts of the judges.  It goes to show that character can never be undervalued or underestimated…Props to Paul Mitchell cofounder John Paul DeJoria for recognizing that.

I was familiar with props as a shortening of several different English words, but this usage left me bewildered.

NOTE: This post is for readers who, like me, have managed to remain ignorant of the expression “props to” until now. It is also for ESL learners who may not be familiar with other uses of prop.

First of all, the word prop exists as a complete word in its own right, both as a noun and as a verb. The noun came first:

prop noun: A stick, rod, pole, stake, or beam used as a temporary support or to keep something in position; in extended use, anything that serves to support something or keep it in place.

A fruit-laden plant may need a wooden prop to hold its branches off the ground.

Shakespeare used prop in its figurative sense in The Merchant of Venice. When the character Gobbo is told that his son is dead, the old man exclaims, “Oh no, God forbid! the boy was the staff of my old age, my prop!”

From the noun came the verb:

prop verb: To support or keep from falling by or as if by a prop; to keep in position with a prop, or with something used as a prop.

A gardening site advises, “Learn to prop up your plants before they flop.” An op-ed writer asserts, “Government should not prop up greyhound racing.”

The verb is often used with the particle up, but not always: “1 Billion IMF Loan Props British Pound.”

The clipped form prop is used to represent different words.

Proposition
In the context of political writing, a proposed law, called a proposition, is often referred to as “a Prop”: “Opponents argue that Prop 47 will put thousands of criminals back on our streets without first ensuring they have been rehabilitated.”

“Proposition betting” is a wagering term. A “prop bet” is placed on some contingency related to the game but it has nothing to do with which side wins or loses.

Here are some prop bets that were made on the Super Bowl XLIX:

Will Idina Menzel forget or omit at least one word of the official US national anthem?

What will Katy Perry be wearing when she begins the halftime show?

What color will Bill Belichick’s hoodie be?

Proprietor
An old-fashioned way to display the name of a shop owner on a sign or business card was to precede or follow the name with the abbreviation Prop. for proprietor: “H. W. Jones, Prop.” The abbreviation came to be used as a word to mean owner, as in “Who is the prop of this establishment?”

Proprietary
This is a Wall Street idiom. When a trader uses the firm’s own money to trade for currencies and commodities—as opposed to using depositors’ money—the operation is called “proprietary trading.” The term is often shortened to “prop trading” and the agent who does it is a “prop trader.” Here’s a recent headline from Business Insider: “A Prop Trader Explains His Work, His Salary, And Why Everyone Is Wrong About His Profession.”

Propeller
The word propeller to mean a device for propelling a machine dates from the 18th century, but the shortening prop for propeller dates to World War I when pilots started referring to airplane propellers as props. Nowadays, the word is more frequently used attributively to describe a certain kind of plane: “Angelina Jolie is well known for her love of aviation. And the mother-of-six indulged in her favourite pastime on Friday with a trip in the pilot seat of a small prop plane.”

Property
In the context of putting on a play, a prop is “an object used in a performance. Prop and props in the context of theater derives from property and properties. A prop usually seen in a performance of Macbeth is a cauldron. By extension, a prop can be any kind of accessory, as in this example from the OED: “Interspersed…were the other props of a traditional Jewish home…a Purim megillah.”

The props in the expression “props to” differs from all of these shortenings in that it telescopes a phrase: proper respects. In the quotation that introduced me to this expression, “Props to Paul Mitchell” means is “Congratulations to Paul Mitchell,” or “Good for Paul Mitchell.”

The use of props in the sense of “due respect” appears suddenly on the Ngram Viewer in 1992 and shoots upward in a vertical line on the graph. The OED labels this use of props as slang, “originally in African-American usage,” and provides a citation from 1990: “I was one of the first female rappers, but I’ve always gotten my props.”—Chicago Tribune

Merriam-Webster defines props as “something that is said to publicly thank and give special attention to someone for doing something; credit or recognition.”

Although props in the sense of recognition seems to have moved up from slang to colloquial, it is still not considered to be standard. In time, however, it may replace worn-out kudos.

Related posts
Word Clipping
Kudo vs Kudos

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5 Responses to “Prop, Props, and Props To”

  • Betsy Ashton

    I think you missed one usage for “props.” In street vernacular, to give someone his “propers” means to be respectful. It’s frequently shortened to “props.”

  • Maeve

    Betsy,
    I’d assume that “propers” is short for “proper respects” to begin with.

  • Hank Hamilton

    The term props may have originated in Aretha Franklin’s 1967 song Respect (written by Otis Redding in 1965) with the line “is to give me my propers when you get home.”

  • venqax

    Yeah. More rapper slang is what we need to improve the language and enhance communication, especially among adults. Funny how the people most preoccupied with getting respect are the least interested in respectability or even basic tact. “One of the First Female Rappers”, yep, that’s one for the tombstone epitaph; mausoleum even. A mausoleum with lots of “bling”, like gold vault-door knobs and a huge dripping -diamond chandelier inside.

  • Agua Caliente

    I believe that Maeve is correct. IIRC, Aretha’s R-E-S-P-E-C-T contained the “propers” usage. It’s not rapper slang; it’s a well-known African-American usage. I’m not that crazy about the “props” dimunition, but that’s my problem.

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