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Middle English gapen, from Old Norse gapa (to gape) (compare Swedish gapa, Danish gabe), from Proto-Germanic *gapōną (descendants Middle English geapen, Dutch gapen, German gaffen), perhaps from Proto-Indo-European *ghēp-.



gape (third-person singular simple present gapes, present participle gaping, simple past and past participle gaped)

  1. (intransitive) To open the mouth wide, especially involuntarily, as in a yawn, anger, or surprise.
    • 1723, Jonathan Swift, The Journal of a Modern Lady, 1810, Samuel Johnson, The Works of the English Poets, from Chaucer to Cowper, Volume 11, page 467,
      She stretches, gapes, unglues her eyes, / And asks if it be time to rise;
    • 1963, Margery Allingham, chapter 9, in The China Governess[1]:
      Eustace gaped at him in amazement. When his urbanity dropped away from him, as now, he had an innocence of expression which was almost infantile. It was as if the world had never touched him at all.
  2. (intransitive) To stare in wonder.
  3. (intransitive) To open wide; to display a gap.
    • c. 1591, William Shakespeare, Third Part of King Henry VI, Act 1, Scene 1, 1807, Samuel Johnson, George Steevens (editors),The plays of William Shakspeare, Volume X, page 291,
      May that ground gape, and swallow me alive, / Where I shall kneel to him who slew my father!
    • 1662, Henry More, An Antidote Against Atheism, Book II, A Collection of Several Philosophical Writings of Dr. Henry More, p. 74:
      "Nor is he deterr'd from the belief of the perpetual flying of the Manucodiata, by the gaping of the feathers of her wings, (which seem thereby less fit to sustain her body) but further makes the narration probable by what he has observed in Kites hovering in the Aire, as he saith, for a whole hour together without any flapping of their wings or changing place."
    • a. 1699, John Denham, Cato Major, Of Old Age: A Poem, 1710, page 25,
      The hungry grave for her due tribute gapes:
  4. (intransitive) Of a cat: to open the passage to the vomeronasal organ, analogous to the flehming in other animals.



An illustration showing the gape (maximum opening) of the mouth of a cobra

gape (countable and uncountable, plural gapes)

  1. (uncommon) An act of gaping; a yawn.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Addison to this entry?)
  2. A large opening.
  3. (uncountable) A disease in poultry caused by gapeworm in the windpipe, a symptom of which is frequent gaping.
  4. The width of an opening.
  5. (zoology) The maximum opening of the mouth (of a bird, fish, etc.) when it is open.

Derived termsEdit