Apron (airport use of the word)
Posted: 06 July 2007 03:31 AM   [ Ignore ]
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This is probably a quick look up in the OED, but I don’t have it!

This came up in a conversation with a Swedish colleague:  Why does he see “Apron” on signs at airports.  Easy to answer what it means, but then why/when did the term get used for concrete paved areas?

Etymology of Apron is no problem to find on a quick lookup.  However, this goes as far as the cloth protection garment meaning, but never mentions the origins of the use of the word for other things. Any ideas when it first got applied to a standing area for aircraft?  My guess is probably it derived from jargon in the 1st World War.

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Posted: 06 July 2007 04:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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"Apron” is also used for an area of hard standing outside a garage, clearly a similar sense, first noted by the OED in 1925. It’s also the theatrical term for the part of the stage which is in front of the curtain.

My guess would be that the front-stage was named because it’s normally narrower than the rear part of the stage, so that the whole stage is shaped something like a bibbed apron, the front part being the bib. Once the sense “the built-up area in front” had been established, it might easily be extended to mean the analogous part of a garage, and further again to mean the analogous part of an airfield.

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Posted: 06 July 2007 05:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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The OED has the theatrical apron from 1903, but I’m sure that can be antedated. The 1903 citation is instructive:

1903 A. B. WALKLEY Dramatic Criticism 108 The ‘apron’ is the technical name for the stage-area in front of the curtain. In the Elizabethan theatre it jutted right out among the public, who surrounded it on three sides. This ‘apron’ slowly shrank..till at last in our day it has altogether disappeared.

There are various 19th century technical uses of apron to refer to various protective extensions on machinery and devices. It seems likely that the aviation sense stems from one or more of these. In any case, the word is used to refer to something that spreads out in front of something else.

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Posted: 07 July 2007 08:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Thank’s for the info

I can see the use way that the use has spread, both in terms of protection and in terms of shape and position e.g. the geological use for the small rock and “outwashings” from a glacier.  That it is used to describe a concrete standing area in front of a building is therefore not much of a stretch, as per Syntinen’s mention of the use for a garage (1925).
I guess that the airfield use must have arisen in the same period, following the early 1900’s except that aircaft were not too common until after the 1st WW, and generally operated off grass strips until craft size grew.

So no mention specifically of the airport application?  So will have to report back to my friend that the general use for hard-standing goes back to at least 1920’s, and probably arrived in airport use just as a common architectural term

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