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Hand-in-cap is an old English trading game and the term itself is the origin of the modern word "handicap".[1][2]

In this game, two players trade possessions.[3] An umpire decided whether the items had the same value, and if not, what the difference was. Both players and the umpire put money in a cap. The players put their hands in the cap, and then removed them either full, to signal agreement with the valuation, or empty, to signal disagreement. If the players both had the same opinion of the valuation, then the umpire won the money in the cap. If one agreed with the valuation and the other didn't, then the player who agreed with the valuation won the money.


This game was played in Piers Plowman, a book from the 14th century.[4]

The concept of a neutral person evening up the odds was extended to handicap racing in the mid-18th century. In handicap racing, horses carry different weights based on the umpire's estimation of what would make them run equally. The use of the term to describe a person with a disability—by extension from handicap racing, a person carrying a heavier burden than normal—appeared in the early 20th century.[4]


  1. ^ Amundson, Ron. "The Meaning of 'Handicap'". University of Hawaii. 
  2. ^ "Handicaprice". Snopes.com. 
  3. ^ "Definition of handicap in Oxford Dictionaries (British & World English)". Retrieved 12 April 2013. 
  4. ^ a b "Online Etymology Dictionary". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 12 April 2013.