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  1. the juice or vital circulating fluid of a plant, especially of a woody plant.
  2. any vital body fluid.
  3. energy; vitality.
  4. sapwood.
  5. Slang. a fool; dupe.
  6. Metallurgy. soft metal at the core of a bar of blister steel.
verb (used with object), sapped, sap·ping.
  1. to drain the sap from.

Origin of sap1

before 900; Middle English; Old English sæp; cognate with Dutch sap; akin to German Saft juice, Old Norse safi; in def. 5 a shortening of saphead


  1. Fortification. a deep, narrow trench constructed so as to form an approach to a besieged place or an enemy's position.
verb (used with object), sapped, sap·ping.
  1. Fortification.
    1. to approach (a besieged place or an enemy position) by means of deep, narrow trenches protected by gabions or parapets.
    2. to dig such trenches in (ground).
  2. to undermine; weaken or destroy insidiously.
verb (used without object), sapped, sap·ping.
  1. Fortification. to dig a sap.

Origin of sap2

1585–95; < French sape (noun), derivative of saper to dig a trench < Italian zappare, a military term, based on zappa hoe (compare dialectal Italian zappo he-goat < ?)


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3. impair, enfeeble, deplete, exhaust, enervate.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for saps

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • Strafford, The wind that saps these walls can undermine Your camp in Scotland, too.

    Browning's England

    Helen Archibald Clarke

  • "You got these saps across the barrel," the general told him happily.

    Project Mastodon

    Clifford Donald Simak

  • So what do we get—we get knifes in the faces, saps on the head—a concussion, you tell me!

    Police Your Planet

    Lester del Rey

  • Many planters, however, leave the saps on the vines, saving the best only.

    The Peanut Plant

    B. W. Jones

  • It saps all my strength and all my pleasure in life: and to no purpose.

    Katharine Frensham

    Beatrice Harraden

British Dictionary definitions for saps


abbreviation for
  1. South African Police Service


  1. a solution of mineral salts, sugars, etc, that circulates in a plant
  2. any vital body fluid
  3. energy; vigour
  4. slang a gullible or foolish person
  5. another name for sapwood
verb saps, sapping or sapped (tr)
  1. to drain of sap
Derived Formssapless, adjective

Word Origin

Old English sæp; related to Old High German sapf, German Saft juice, Middle Low German sapp, Sanskrit sabar milk juice


  1. a deep and narrow trench used to approach or undermine an enemy position, esp in siege warfare
verb saps, sapping or sapped
  1. to undermine (a fortification, etc) by digging saps
  2. (tr) to weaken

Word Origin

C16 zappe, from Italian zappa spade, of uncertain origin; perhaps from Old Italian (dialect) zappo a goat


abbreviation for
  1. South African Police


n acronym for (in Britain)
  1. Standard Assessment Procedure, the recognized performance indicator for measuring energy efficiency in buildings
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for saps



"liquid in a plant," Old English sæpm from Proto-Germanic *sapam (cf. Middle Low German, Middle Dutch, Dutch sap, Old High German saf, German Saft "juice"), from PIE *sab- "juice, fluid" (cf. Latin sapere "to taste"), from root *sab- "juice, fluid" (cf. Sanskrit sabar- "sap, milk, nectar," Irish sug, Russian soku "sap," Lithuanian sakas "tree-gum"). As a verb meaning "To drain the sap from," 1725.



"simpleton," 1815, originally especially in Scottish and English schoolboy slang, probably from earlier sapskull (1735), saphead (1798), from sap as a shortened form of sapwood "soft wood between the inner bark and the heartwood" (late 14c.), from sap (n.1) + wood (n.); so called because it conducts the sap; cf. sappy.



"dig a trench toward the enemy's position," 1590s, from Middle French saper, from sappe "spade," from Late Latin sappa "spade" (cf. Italian zappa, Spanish zapa "spade"). Extended sense "weaken or destroy insidiously" is from 1755, probably influenced by the verb form of sap (n.1), on the notion of "draining the vital sap from." Related: Sapped; sapping.



"club, stick for hitting," 1899, from shortening of sapwood (see sap (n.2)) or sapling.



"hit with a sap," 1926, from sap (n.3). Related: Sapped; sapping.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

saps in Science


  1. The watery fluid that circulates through a plant that has vascular tissues. Sap moving up the xylem carries water and minerals, while sap moving down the phloem carries water and food.
  2. See cell sap.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.