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September 8, 2018

Fred started back at school last week, so naturally – obviously – ça va de soi – he couldn’t find his lanyard on the first day back. We hunted high and low for it, because going to school without your lanyard these days lands you straight in detention. Eventually I had to give up and give him three quid to buy a new one. I reckon schools are on a nice little earner with these lanyards, which can’t cost more than a few pence to produce.

Lanyards, eh? A few years ago I had never even heard the word. But now every secondary school kid in the country wears one. So do the teachers. So, in fact, do all sorts of workers in all sorts of institutions; it’s not uncommon, travelling home on the tube in the evening, to see half the passengers wearing lanyards which they forgot to take off when they left the office.

But where did the word come from? I looked it up in my Compact Oxford English Dictionary, the one you need a magnifying glass to read and a forklift truck to pick up. The first entry for lanyard gave it as = lainer; and when I looked lainer up it said it was an obsolete term for a lace, strap, thong or lash. Meaning 2 said it was a nautical term meaning ‘A short piece of rope or line made fast to anything to secure it, or as a handle’.

The modern-day meaning – ‘an easily-lost ID card or pass worn on a ribbon around the neck’ – wasn’t there. My dictionary is not the most up-to-date edition, however. It was published in 1994. It would be interesting to know just when the new meaning first appeared in dictionaries.

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  1. Simon Carter permalink

    You set me on a quest here Brandon! I haven’t found out when the new meaning appeared but it seems lanyard weaving became popular for children in the 1950s and in France was known as scioubidou – there is a claim that a certain cartoon dog was named after it. News to me because I thought it came from Frank Sinatra!

  2. John Dunn permalink

    I found an online source ( that defines ‘lanyard’ as a ‘neck cord for carrying [sth]’ and my 1998 edition of Chambers has a similar definition. But I suspect that the extension of meaning to include the identity badge at the end of the cord is too recent to be recorded in dictionaries.

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