slap on the wrist, relatively mild criticism or censure: He got away with a slap on the wrist.

Origin of slap

First recorded in 1625–35, slap is from the Low German word slapp, slappe; of expressive orig.
Related formsslap·per, noun

Synonym study

1. See blow1. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for slap on the wrist



a sharp blow or smack, as with the open hand, something flat, etc
the sound made by or as if by such a blow
a sharp rebuke; reprimand
a bit of slap and tickle or slap and tickle British informal sexual play
a slap in the face an insult or rebuff
a slap on the back congratulation
a slap on the wrist a light punishment or reprimand

verb slaps, slapping or slapped

(tr) to strike (a person or thing) sharply, as with the open hand or something flat
(tr) to bring down (the hand, something flat, etc) sharply
(when intr, usually foll by against) to strike (something) with or as if with a slap
(tr) informal, mainly British to apply in large quantities, haphazardly, etcshe slapped butter on the bread
slap on the back to congratulate

adverb informal

exactly; directlyslap on time
forcibly or abruptlyto fall slap on the floor
Derived Formsslapper, noun

Word Origin for slap

C17: from Low German slapp, German Schlappe, of imitative origin
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 slap on the wrist



late 15c., "strike with the open hand," from slap (n.). As an adverb, 1670s, "suddenly;" 1829, "directly." Related: Slapped; slapping.



mid-15c., probably of imitative origin, similar to Low German slappe, German Schlappe. Figurative meaning "insult, reprimand" is attested from 1736. Slap-happy (1936) originally meant "punch-drunk." Slap on the wrist "very mild punishment" dates from 1914.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with slap on the wrist

slap on the wrist

A mild reproof, as in We were fined heavily, and all she got from the judge was a slap on the wrist. [Early 1900s]

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.