Definition of handicap in US English:



  • 1A circumstance that makes progress or success difficult.

    ‘a criminal conviction is a handicap and a label that may stick forever’
    • ‘Even with the well-documented handicaps of limited finance and poor distribution, we still manage to create exceedingly good films.’
    • ‘The lack of capacity and facilities is also a handicap to success in the lower divisions.’
    • ‘His huge mane may be a handicap that prevents him from helping the hunt, but in courtship size matters.’
    • ‘He added a further handicap to success when it was decided that the league would own all the teams.’
    • ‘Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, Charlie Parker: all had to struggle against handicaps to become successful artists.’
    • ‘Mary explained that the biggest handicap for members is rain which makes it extremely difficult to keep the playing hand dry while pulling a caddy car at the same time.’
    • ‘These same handicaps account for Germany's lack of success in imperialist combinations and alliances.’
    • ‘One must keep in mind the primary handicap of human beings in such circumstances.’
    • ‘Its content, however, reflects both the handicaps mentioned and the limitations of the judicial process.’
    • ‘Although there are many higher levels on which rebirth can be achieved, they are potentially a handicap to spiritual progress.’
    • ‘Losing over half-a-team in a year has proved too difficult a handicap for Fenagh to overcome and they shipped a heavy defeat from the champions last week.’
    • ‘Until the recall, he'd overcome this handicap by spotlighting his opponents' shortcomings.’
    • ‘It would make no sense to go forward in the Union with a self-imposed handicap which would reduce our effectiveness and our success.’
    • ‘Although there was nothing to prevent him from practising surgery, the biggest handicap was the unavailability of basic infrastructural facilities.’
    • ‘They have overcome Beijing's natural handicaps and the ravages of successive invasions, and established the city as a world capital.’
    • ‘In interacting with individuals of lower status or even equal social rank, people tend to be candid in referring to appearance, shortcomings, or handicaps.’
    • ‘They faced severe handicaps because of limited education and job skills, inadequate English, and racial prejudice.’
    • ‘All students of Judo are courageous and inspiring, and all of them overcome great difficulties and personal handicaps.’
    • ‘Such handicaps did nothing to dampen the spirits of the Silver Scot.’
    • ‘And it has to be said that he was remarkably successful at it, despite some of the handicaps which we have already mentioned.’
    impediment, hindrance, obstacle, barrier, bar, encumbrance
    View synonyms
  • 2offensive, dated A condition that markedly restricts a person's ability to function physically, mentally, or socially.

    ‘he was born with a significant visual handicap’
    disability, physical abnormality, mental abnormality, defect, impairment, affliction, disadvantage, deficiency
    View synonyms
  • 3A disadvantage imposed on a superior competitor in sports such as golf, horse racing, and competitive sailing in order to make the chances more equal.

    • ‘In reality, this will probably mean improving his golf handicap of 21.’
    • ‘At first it was thought that Doug had tied Dene Mundy at 38 points, but after checking the new handicaps, it was found that he had won by a point.’
    • ‘Hunt's handicap was trimmed by three strokes after his cup success.’
    • ‘O'Driscoll plays golf off a handicap of nine but says he could never have made it as a pro.’
    • ‘In summary, the Pattaya Sports Club realizes the need for each member to have a competitive handicap regardless of his or her level of skill.’
    • ‘Choose from over 20 maps, set handicaps, map sizes and the difficulty of the computer players, allow cheats, share resources, and other stuff.’
    • ‘There was a difference this year, with the handicaps restricted to three quarters with a maximum of eighteen, which resulted in the number of teams being slightly less than on previous occasions.’
    • ‘We are also affiliated to the Lancashire Union of Golf Clubs so handicaps can be obtained.’
    • ‘There is no doubt that this is a competitive handicap with plenty of dangers.’
    • ‘Well, a new innovation from the governing body means that you will now be able to check your exact handicap via your mobile phone.’
    • ‘He plays off a golf handicap of 14, and is an avid GAA, soccer and rugby follower.’
    • ‘Golf handicaps have not gone down and golfers are not any less frustrated than they have ever been before.’
    • ‘Now aged 42, he lives in Carlow, plays golf off a handicap of 13, and commutes in his Jaguar every day to his office in ParkWest.’
    • ‘Twenty-four did not seem all that bad for a novice when I was awarded a handicap by those knowledgeable committeemen at Swinton Park Golf Club.’
    • ‘In his leisure time he follows West Ham United and plays golf off a handicap of 12.’
    • ‘Only when they play with the hindrance of a handicap, as they did when Hearts were two up in Glasgow a fortnight back, is there any fun in it.’
    • ‘In Thailand, we play many fine courses of different standards and levels of difficulty and do so applying our lowest current handicap, from whatever source.’
    • ‘Battling against painful odds to remain in the game the little genius still plays off a scratch handicap hoping to comeback to competitive golf.’
    • ‘John Moore was declared winner after the match, but after checking his most recent handicap, it was determined that John had come in tied for third.’
    • ‘The BSF Tennis committee has reverted back to the former handicap system and all clubs are advised to check their respective handicaps with the Mixed League secretary.’
    1. 3.1 A race or contest in which a disadvantage is imposed on a superior competitor.
      in names ‘the trophy for the $75,000 Ak-Sar-Ben Handicap’
      • ‘It was the trainer's second victory in Europe's richest sprint handicap, following Wildwood Flower's success in 1997.’
      • ‘Trained at Newmarket by Michael Bell, Magic Rainbow showed some decent form in competitive handicaps last season.’
      • ‘At Ascot as recently as last Saturday, he won a competitive handicap by one and three-quarter lengths from Guinea Hunter.’
      • ‘Chris Wall's gelding comes into battle in great heart after producing a sterling effort to win a competitive handicap at Newbury on his latest outing.’
      • ‘The four-year-old caught the eye when finishing fifth in a competitive handicap at Haydock on his latest start.’
      • ‘That success was achieved in a handicap in which Lady Protector had gone down in a photo-finish 12 months earlier, so it was deserved compensation.’
      • ‘She followed a cantering success in a Roscommon handicap with a smooth victory in a conditions event at Leopardstown ten days ago.’
      • ‘Winner of three of his four races, he has made significant strides this season, his latest success coming in a red-hot handicap at Newmarket last month.’
      • ‘The eight-year-old fulfilled the promise of several creditable placed efforts with an overdue success in a valuable handicap at Hamilton last week.’
      • ‘The gelding was an 18-length winner that day, but failed to build on his success by trailing home fifth of six in an Ascot handicap on his most recent start.’
      • ‘A high-class performer, who scored at Newbury early last season, Vintage Premium went on to run well in several competitive handicaps.’
      • ‘This time last year, Blueprint was winning one of the handicaps at the royal meeting but such has been his progress since then, the horse is likely to start as one of the favourites for what could be one of the best races of the week.’
      • ‘She ran her best race to date at Galway six days ago when powering through late to finish two lengths second behind Penny Farthing in a competitive handicap.’
      • ‘The same trainer and jockey joined forces yesterday to clinch a shock 50-1 success with Bagan in the curtain-raising handicap.’
      • ‘He lost out by a short head to Clever Consul in a competitive handicap, after losing a lot of ground at the start.’
      • ‘Carrying top weight in such a competitive handicap is never ideal but he has earned the poundage and he is built to carry it.’
      • ‘Kempton's Racing Post Chase is traditionally one of the most competitive handicaps in the calendar, but no-one told jockey Richard Johnson and pint-sized Gunther McBride.’
      • ‘Trained at Lambourn by Lavinia Taylor, this six-year-old proved solidly progressive last season and wound-up by winning a valuable handicap at Ayr in April.’
      • ‘Prior to his Kempton success, the former also won a valuable Ascot handicap and his trainer feels the Lord Americo gelding is now ready to leave that company and step up in trip.’
      • ‘Having broken his maiden tag at Ripon on his second outing, Guto was then beaten narrowly at Musselburgh before returning to Ripon to gain a gritty success in a nursery handicap.’
    2. 3.2 The extra weight to be carried in a race by a racehorse on the basis of its previous performance to make its chances of winning the same as those of the other horses.
      • ‘However, in Spa-Francorchamps more than anywhere else, the weight handicaps will have a great impact on the performance of the cars.’
      • ‘For the first time this year, the races in France will comply with the new distribution of weight handicaps in the FIA WTCC.’
      • ‘First of all, there is the difficulty of ensuring that the anomalies would keep their handicaps on.’
      • ‘If a horse is given a high handicap, his chances of winning can be destroyed.’
      • ‘Both carried identical handicaps and both moved impressively to the same score of gross 92.’
      • ‘I am starting this exercise program with a handicap - I am carrying 80 extra pounds.’
      • ‘As well as new drivers, cars and teams, results from round one also will be affected by new race-by-race weight handicaps.’
      • ‘But trainers need jockeys who can compete on handicaps at weights considerably less than 9st, and it is a fearsome task to comply, even for fit athletes.’
      • ‘The three-year-old absolutely trotted-up by five lengths at Pontefract last week, a victory which looks sure to earn him much more than 5lb extra in future handicaps.’
      • ‘Despite his 25-kilogram weight handicap, he retains the upper hand.’
      • ‘As in Silverstone a fortnight go, the BMW drivers had to line up with a weight handicap of 20 kilograms compared to their front-wheel-drive rivals.’
      • ‘Gold shows a particularly vivid knowledge of the dubious ethos of the turf, and reveals how Zeb is tricked by his Irish mentor into losing a race in order to bring down his horse's handicap.’
      • ‘This recently-introduced grade of racing, for horses with a handicap rating of 45 or under, has proved popular down south thus far.’
      • ‘He had an unbeatable combination of jumping ability, stamina and pace, as well as the courage to carry crushing burdens in handicaps, in which he usually conceded the full weight range to his rivals.’
      • ‘It came just four months after another BBC expose, Kenyon Confronts, used covert footage to show three trainers claiming horses could be prevented from winning certain races in order to lower handicaps.’
      • ‘Justice was fast, but Eagle was just a bit faster, even with my weight handicap.’
    3. 3.3 The number of strokes by which a golfer normally exceeds par for a course (used as a method of enabling players of unequal ability to compete with each other)
      in combination ‘his game struggles along in the 20-handicap range’
      • ‘‘My goal now is to get my golf handicap down,’ he smiles.’
      • ‘The round capped off a very successful period for Mike, which has seen his handicap reduce steadily towards the first division level.’
      • ‘Since Stewart has declared an interest in attending every Chelsea game this season and getting his golf handicap down as much as possible, that seems unlikely.’
      • ‘To have an enviable handicap in golf and to be a connoisseur of Bacchus is not unknown among members of the medical profession.’
      • ‘It must have done wonders for his golf handicap.’
      • ‘John Preddy was also in the frame when he again shot 38 points, maintaining his steady progress off his 32 handicap.’
      • ‘My golf handicap is currently on the wrong side of twenty so I'll have to see what I can do about that!’
      • ‘Poor old Frank Fahey was summoned back from Spain, where he was making some useful progress on his handicap.’
      • ‘However, knowing Stais, she'll have a happy and active retirement and no doubt her golf handicap will be falling faster than inflation is rising!’
      • ‘A lot of weekend practise saw Trevor bounce back to form, also beating his handicap on a day when the poor greens proved too difficult for most of the field.’
      • ‘In the circumstances it was no surprise that nobody beat their handicap, nor that Tim Holt came in the winner, by a short cough.’
      • ‘It was to turn into a tough day for the players and only one man was to break par and two equal their handicap so we can exempt them from the ‘Duffer Tag’.’
      • ‘Instead of helping their players enhance the skills that may determine their futures, these coaches have little choice but to work on decreasing their golf handicaps.’
      • ‘Nicolson will now be seeking to get his golf handicap down.’
      • ‘Only John Emmerson managed to equal or better his handicap.’
      • ‘Although Bodfari Signet has been beaten four times since his last success, he is gradually slipping down the handicap.’
      • ‘Golfers of various handicaps were asked to putt on the greens and choose the faster green.’
      • ‘HRH Prince Andrew has been reducing his golf handicap.’
      • ‘Of the 12 major prizewinners, only two failed to equal or better their handicap.’
      • ‘Under the U.S. Golf Association's ESC system, players with course handicaps of 9 or less can post no more than a double bogey on any hole.’


[with object]
  • 1Act as an impediment to.

    ‘lack of funding has handicapped the development of research’
    • ‘He is further handicapped by being severely limited in what he can and cannot do.’
    • ‘Education follows the French system, and is available to all, although the system is handicapped by insufficient funding.’
    • ‘Businesses in part of the growing Dunmore Road area of Waterford are being handicapped because Eircom still hasn't extended high speed Internet access to them and doesn't plan to in the near future.’
    • ‘By association, the current designer is handicapped by the fact that men look behind any cultural invention for irrelevant, ingenuous, or threatening forces.’
    • ‘Here the Constitution is not concerned with handicapping the government to preserve other values.’
    • ‘This is clearly a measure of last resort and its application is handicapped by the postoperative development of bronchiolitis obliterans.’
    • ‘Make no mistake: any development of a spacefaring civilization will be handicapped by widespread public refusal to accept the historical sciences.’
    • ‘In the end the Japanese showed a preference for doing business with the Chinese, who seemed less handicapped by bureaucratic constraints.’
    • ‘Consequently because of us, the Maori has been handicapped in his development as a free people.’
    • ‘The European Union boycott and American prohibitions are not seriously handicapping Burma.’
    • ‘And quite frankly, I am appalled to discover there are enemies of the state who would have it that Jacob Zuma is somehow handicapped when it comes to dealing with matters of a financial nature.’
    • ‘His development is retarded and he will forever be handicapped by the barbaric treatment at the hands of his own family.’
    • ‘Cannabis use in young people remains a controversial area, and absence of good data has handicapped the development of rational public health policies.’
    • ‘Robinson said the divisions inside the UUP were now shown to be deep and irreconcilable and even if Smyth had been elected he would have been handicapped by ‘appeasers of republicanism’.’
    • ‘If the EU is trying to fight an economic war here, it should realize that handicapping its own economy is not the best way to go about it.’
    • ‘And I think that's what has handicapped the police.’
    • ‘But its development is being handicapped by bureaucracy.’
    • ‘That they were visually impaired did not handicap their ambitions at least.’
    • ‘I'll cover a variety of things, and I tend to like House elections better anyway, but I expect to write about the Bush campaign and I don't expect to be handicapped in it.’
    • ‘And, more importantly, it may be a decision that could handicap the sponsor's future development efforts.’
    hamper, impede, hinder, impair, disadvantage, put at a disadvantage, hamstring, curtail
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1 Place (someone) at a disadvantage.
      ‘without a good set of notes you will handicap yourself when it comes to exams’
      • ‘In particular, developing states are handicapped as effective international actors by having relatively underdeveloped diplomatic machines and by a restricted range of policy instruments.’
      • ‘Ms Johnson-Sirleaf boasts an Ivy League education and top postings in government and the United Nations, but is handicapped by her association with past failed governments.’
      • ‘And I think those people handicapped by the lack of a diploma can easily bypass this hurdle so long as the stress is placed more on a certificate than on real abilities.’
      • ‘Scientists in developing countries are terribly handicapped in both generation and sharing.’
      • ‘Sweatshop monitoring groups say other areas handicapped by geography and poor infrastructure, like Swaziland, saw nearly half their factories closed.’
      • ‘We just don't want it to mean that the system handicaps him too.’
      • ‘Third, both the oath and the mandate are handicapped by a constricted vision.’
      • ‘Congress has handicapped him from a resource standpoint.’
      • ‘In essence, his players were handicapped by their inexperience and a lack of awareness what was required to succeed at the highest level.’
      • ‘People don't realise how much tendinitis can handicap you throughout your time in the game.’
      • ‘They knew they were trying to ride a very weak and handicapped candidate to victory, and he went down to a much worse defeat than they had anticipated and so I think right now a lot of Democrats are stunned.’
      • ‘‘Many men think that if they keep their woman where she does not know anything, this is going to benefit him,’ but in reality, she says, this handicaps the man.’
      • ‘And she was handicapped by a seriously self-obsessed mother, who seems sometimes to have suffered depression, but even when she was not ill was utterly wrapped up in her own concerns.’
      • ‘This child is characteristically handicapped by an inability to tolerate authority, and lacks a capacity for sustained effort; however, he is intelligent.’
      • ‘Seles' game is not suited to fast grass courts and she is handicapped by her awkward two-handed volleying style, where she approaches the net as though about to bludgeon someone with a frying pan.’
      • ‘For so much of the tragedy in disability is created by a society which needlessly handicaps us.’
      • ‘Those born to poor parents are handicapped from birth by poor schooling, poor healthcare, and frequently poor nutrition.’
      • ‘You're handicapping them by limiting them to acoustic guitars.’
      • ‘This agency is handicapped, however, because its funding is voluntary and contributors may earmark their donations for specific programs.’
      • ‘Instituting more rules based on morality handicaps the soldiers.’


See handicapped


Mid 17th century: from the phrase hand in cap; originally a pastime in which one person claimed an article belonging to another and offered something in exchange, any difference in value being decided by an umpire. All three deposited forfeit money in a cap; the two opponents showed their agreement or disagreement with the valuation by bringing out their hands either full or empty. If both were the same, the umpire took the forfeit money; if not it went to the person who accepted the valuation. The term handicap race was applied (late 18th century) to a horse race in which an umpire decided the weight to be carried by each horse, the owners showing acceptance or dissent in a similar way: hence in the late 19th century handicap came to mean the extra weight given to the superior horse.