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A reader was puzzled by the use of clip in the following sentence:

Amazon has been adding distribution facilities at a clip.

Says the reader,

I have typically seen this as “rapid clip,” and in looking in the dictionary noted that “clip” as a noun refers to rate, which means it would need some type of modifier to signify speed. However, I also noted at there is a definition of it as a verb meaning “to move swiftly.” As a result, I’m wondering if use of “clip” as a noun has taken on this meaning so that an adjective is no longer necessary.

Clip has more than one meaning, both as a noun and as a verb.

The verbs came before the nouns.

The verb that gives us the “holding on” sense of clip derives from the Old English verb, clyppan: “to clasp with the arms, to embrace, or to hug.” From this verb we get nouns with the following meanings:

clip: an embrace or a hug (now obsolete)

clip: a device that grips objects tightly. Examples of this kind of clip are: hair clips, bicycle clips, a potato chip bag clip, etc. A synonym is clamp.

clip: a receptacle containing several cartridges held together at the base for insertion bodily into the magazine of a repeating firearm.

clip: a piece of jewelry that may be clipped onto clothing.

Other nouns come from a different verb that means “to cut with scissors or shears.” This clip came into Middle English from a Scandinavian source. From it come the following nouns:

clip: shears (for cutting wool)
clip: a piece that has been clipped off of something
clip: a smart blow, stroke, or “cut.” For example, He gave him a clip across the mouth.
clip: a rate of speed; a rapid pace or motion (colloquial)

Now I’ll address the reader’s two-part question.

Clip used as a verb to mean ‘to move rapidly” is first cited in 1833. It may have acquired this meaning from the fact that clippers in the hand of an expert move very fast.

The earliest date for the noun meaning “rate” is later than for the verb (1867), so there probably is a connection between them. However, clip may be used with or without a modifier.

The following citations illustrate the use of the noun clip with and without modifiers:

1867 It is believed that he can go a four-minute clip.
1887 We are goin’ wi’ a clip now. (We are going with a clip now.)
1893 In three days I could drive him any ‘clip’ I chose by just talking to him.
1893 Lastly, the bicyclists rode from six to ten miles daily at a stiff clip.
1901 [The ship] traveled at a 12-knot clip.
1911 You’ll never finish your book at all at the clip you’re hitting now.
1929 The infield was functioning at an improved clip during this second game.
1941 That dog can keep up a terrific clip.
1967 Romance and marriage among corporations is rolling along at a torrid pace…The brisk clip continues this year.

The reader’s example fits right in: “Amazon has been adding distribution facilities at a clip.”

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4 thoughts on “Clip”

  1. I still think clip needs a modifier in the original sentence. Is Amazon adding facilities at a rapid clip clip, a moderate clip, or a surprisingly slow clip? The examples you cite all have modifiers except 1887 (very colloquial) and 1911 (the slow clip is strongly implied).

  2. I, too, would have been looking for a modifier in that sentence about Amazon. All of the examples offered indicate a rate of speed either through a modifier or other structural component.

    The 1911 example uses clip to indicate a slow rate.

    After reading the Amazon sentence, unless explained in context, I would be confused as to whether that clip was a slow or a quick one.

  3. Every single one of those examples except the 1887 one are letting you know in some way what speed the clip is at. You could replace the word clip with the word rate in all of those examples, and they would mostly make sense in all of them except the 1887 example and the Amazon example.

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