Q: For many generations, my family has used the word “threap” as a mild threat, as in “If you don’t eat that, I’ll threap it down your throat.” This comes down through my Scots and Irish side of the family. Can you tell me of its origin?
A: The verb “threap,” which the Oxford English Dictionary says is “of uncertain history,” dates back to Anglo-Saxon days, when it was spelled ðreapian in Old English. (The letter ð, or eth, was an early version of “th.”)
The OED says “threap” originally meant to rebuke, scold, or blame. The earliest example in the dictionary is from Pastoral Care, King Alfred’s 897 translation of Cura Pastoralis, a sixth-century Latin treatise by Pope Gregory I:
“Ðonne he to suiðe & to ðearllice ðreapian wile his hieremenn” (“When he reproves his subjects too severely”).
The OED lists many other meanings for “threap,” including to argue (1303), to insist obstinately on something (circa 1386), to fight (c 1400), to prod someone to give up something (1677), and to persuade someone to believe something (c 1440).
The sense of “threap” that you’re asking about—“to thrust, obtrude, press (something) upon a person”—showed up in the 16th century, according to citations in the dictionary.
The earliest example is from a 1571 English translation of Calvin’s Latin commentary on the Book of Psalms: “If Sathan threpe any feare uppon us, it may be kept farre of from enterance.”
And here’s another religious example, from A Compleat History and Mystery of the Old and New Testament (1690), by Christopher Ness: “Araunah had a princely spirit … but generous David threaps upon him fifty shekels.”
The OED says “threap” now occurs in Scottish and northern English dialects, which supports the idea that Scots may have brought the usage into your family.
Although some standard English dictionaries have entries for “threap,” they generally agree with Oxford that the usage is Scottish or northern English dialect.
The Scots Language Centre has an example of the word in action, Daena threap doun ma thrapple, which it defines as “Don’t try and dictate to me.” (A thrapple is a throat in Scots; an American might say, “Don’t shove it down my throat.”)