verb (used with object), hand·i·capped, hand·i·cap·ping.

Origin of handicap

1640–50; 1870–75 for def 8; orig. hand i' cap hand in cap, referring to a drawing before a horse race
Related formsnon·hand·i·cap, nouno·ver·hand·i·cap, verb (used with object), o·ver·hand·i·capped, o·ver·hand·i·cap·ping.pre·hand·i·cap, noun, verb (used with object), pre·hand·i·capped, pre·hand·i·cap·ping.

Synonyms for handicap

Antonyms for handicap

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for handicap

Contemporary Examples of handicap

Historical Examples of handicap

  • And the pinto, for all his courage, could not meet that handicap and beat it.

  • His imperial intelligence, however, was too heavy a handicap.

  • Even Tillie's chicken and waffles failed against this handicap.


    Mary Roberts Rinehart

  • Lucretia's defeat in the Handicap had increased his despondency.


    W. A. Fraser

  • I'll give you a brush, if you do, and a handicap into the bargain.

British Dictionary definitions for handicap



something that hampers or hinders
  1. a contest, esp a race, in which competitors are given advantages or disadvantages of weight, distance, time, etc, in an attempt to equalize their chances of winning
  2. the advantage or disadvantage prescribed
golf the number of strokes by which a player's averaged score exceeds the standard scratch score for the particular course: used as the basis for handicapping in competitive play
any physical disability or disadvantage resulting from physical, mental, or social impairment or abnormality

verb -caps, -capping or -capped (tr)

to be a hindrance or disadvantage to
to assign a handicap or handicaps to
to organize (a contest) by handicapping
US and Canadian
  1. to attempt to forecast the winner of (a contest, esp a horse race)
  2. to assign odds for or against (a contestant)

Word Origin for handicap

C17: probably from hand in cap, a lottery game in which players drew forfeits from a cap or deposited money in it
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 handicap

1650s, from hand in cap, a game whereby two bettors would engage a neutral umpire to determine the odds in an unequal contest. The bettors would put their hands holding forfeit money into a hat or cap. The umpire would announce the odds and the bettors would withdraw their hands -- hands full meaning that they accepted the odds and the bet was on, hands empty meaning they did not accept the bet and were willing to forfeit the money. If one forfeited, then the money went to the other. If both agreed either on forfeiting or going ahead with the wager, then the umpire kept the money as payment. The custom, though not the name, is attested from 14c. ("Piers Plowman").

Reference to horse racing is 1754 (Handy-Cap Match), where the umpire decrees the superior horse should carry extra weight as a "handicap;" this led to sense of "encumbrance, disability" first recorded 1890. The main modern sense, "disability," is the last to develop, early 20c.


"equalize chances of competitors," 1852, but implied in the horse-race sense from mid-18c., from handicap (n.). Meaning "put at a disadvantage" is from 1864. Earliest verbal sense, now obsolete, was "to gain as in a wagering game" (1640s). Related: Handicapped; handicapping.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

handicap in Medicine




A physical, mental, or emotional condition that interferes with one's normal functioning.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.