1. a loop of leather or cloth sewn at the top rear, or sometimes on each side, of a boot to facilitate pulling it on.
  2. a means of advancing oneself or accomplishing something: He used his business experience as a bootstrap to win voters.
  1. relying entirely on one's efforts and resources: The business was a bootstrap operation for the first ten years.
  2. self-generating or self-sustaining: a bootstrap process.
verb (used with object), boot·strapped, boot·strap·ping.
  1. Computers. boot1(defs 24, 28).
  2. to help (oneself) without the aid of others: She spent years bootstrapping herself through college.
  1. pull (oneself) up by (one's) bootstraps, to help oneself without the aid of others; use one's resources: I admire him for pulling himself up by his own bootstraps.

Origin of bootstrap

First recorded in 1890–95; boot1 + strap Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

British Dictionary definitions for pull oneself by one's bootstraps


  1. a leather or fabric loop on the back or side of a boot for pulling it on
  2. by one's bootstraps or by one's own bootstraps by one's own efforts; unaided
  3. (modifier) self-acting or self-sufficient, as an electronic amplifier that uses its output voltage to bias its input
    1. Also: boota technique for loading the first few program instructions into a computer main store to enable the rest of the program to be introduced from an input device
    2. (as modifier)a bootstrap loader
  4. commerce an offer to purchase a controlling interest in a company, esp with the intention of purchasing the remainder of the equity at a lower price
verb -straps, -strapping or -strapped (tr)
  1. to set up or achieve (something) using minimal resources
  2. (foll by to) to attach (something) to a larger or more important thing
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 pull oneself by one's bootstraps



also boot-strap, tab or loop at the back of the top of a men's boot, which the wearer hooked a finger through to pull the boots on, 1870, from boot (n.) + strap (n.).

Circa 1900, to pull (oneself) up by (one's) bootstraps was used figuratively of an impossible task (Among the "practical questions" at the end of chapter one of Steele's "Popular Physics" schoolbook (1888) is, "30. Why can not a man lift himself by pulling up on his boot-straps?"). By 1916 its meaning expanded to include "better oneself by rigorous, unaided effort." The meaning "fixed sequence of instructions to load the operating system of a computer" (1953) is from the notion of the first-loaded program pulling itself, and the rest, up by the bootstrap.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper