India pips China

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Headline from the Deccan Herald:

"India pips China, inks deal to develop, support maintain harbour at naval base in Maldives", Anirban Bhaumik (2/21/21)

Although I could guess from the context what it meant in the title of this article, I had never encountered "pip" with this meaning before.

Upon looking it up in Wiktionary, I find that "pip" has no less than seven different main meanings.  Of these, five are nouns and only two are verbs.



1. Any of various respiratory diseases in birds, especially infectious coryza. [from the 15th c.]

2. (humorous) Of humans, a disease, malaise or depression.



1. obsolete) A pippin, seed of any kind.

    (Britain) A seed inside certain fleshy fruits (compare stone/pit), such as a peach, orange, or apple.

2. (US, colloquial) Something or someone excellent, of high quality.

3. (Britain, dated, WW I, signalese) P in RAF phonetic alphabet.



1. One of the spots or symbols on a playing card, domino, die, etc.

2. (military, public service) One of the stylised versions of the Bath star worn on the shoulder of a uniform to denote rank, e.g. of a soldier or a fireman.

3. A spot; a speck.

4. A spot of light or an inverted V indicative of a return of radar waves reflected from an object; a blip.

5. A piece of rhizome with a dormant shoot of the lily of the valley plant, used for propagation



1. One of a series of very short, electronically produced tones, used, for example, to count down the final few seconds before a given time or to indicate that a caller using a payphone needs to make further payment if he is to continue his call.



1. (finance, currency trading) The smallest price increment between two currencies in foreign exchange (forex) trading.




1. To get the better of; to defeat by a narrow margin

        He led throughout the race but was pipped at the post.

 2. To hit with a gunshot

        The hunter managed to pip three ducks from his blind.



1. To peep, to chirp

2. (avian biology) To make the initial hole during the process of hatching from an egg


Then there's Gladys Knight and the Pips, but I have no idea where that comes from.  In addition, “pips” is a slang word that roughly means “easy” or “that was easy” (source), but I don't know the derivation of that either. However, I do know the origin of "give [someone} the pip", at least insofar as two authoritative references tell me what it is.  "It derives from the poultry disease known as 'the pip.' The Oxford English Dictionary and Green’s Dictionary of Slang reveal having or getting the pip was used to mean feeling depressed or out of sorts starting in the 1830s, and “giving [someone] the pip,” meaning to annoy or irritate, in 1896." (source). That would be under "Nouns", I.2 above.

The "pips" in the Deccan Herald headline ("India pips China") with which we began this post must be under "Verbs", I.1.


Selected readings


  1. Bathrobe said,

    February 21, 2021 @ 10:47 pm

    "Pip" is quite familiar to me, especially "pipped at the post". Is it maybe more British than American?

  2. First-time writer said,

    February 21, 2021 @ 10:50 pm

    "The Pips," at least according to Wikipedia, came about as follows: "They settled on the name The Pips, inspired by the nickname of their cousin James 'Pip' Woods."

  3. Ferdinand Cesarano said,

    February 21, 2021 @ 11:10 pm

    I think @Bathrobe is right. This meaning of "to pip" is common in football, to describe the scoring of the match-winning goal just before the final whistle. For example: "Chelsea pips Arsenal."

  4. Chiara Maqueda said,

    February 21, 2021 @ 11:12 pm

    " … pipped at the post" very common in Australia, especially in horse racing calls.

  5. john burke said,

    February 21, 2021 @ 11:40 pm

    In the opening sequence of Hitchcock's "The Thirty-Nine Steps" a man in the music hall audience wants to ask the performer Mr. Memory "What causes pip in poultry?" but his wife tells him not to make himself common. He tries a couple of times but his feeble voice is drowned out by audience noise.

  6. Hang Zhao said,

    February 22, 2021 @ 12:20 am

    PIP means a package management system in computer science, but surely doesnt meant it here

  7. Michael Watts said,

    February 22, 2021 @ 1:43 am

    This sense does not exist in American English. Of the seven senses listed, only the noun sense III is familiar to me, though noun sense I is obviously jargon and senses IV and V seem like obvious extensions of sense III.

    In particular, I am not familiar with sense II.2, supposedly an Americanism.

  8. rosie said,

    February 22, 2021 @ 3:44 am

    For me, understanding 'pips' was not the most puzzling part of that sentence. After the first comma comes 'inks deal to develop'. 'Inks' is primarily a noun, but the context demands a verb, the comma thus separating the first two items in a list of predicates. Now it's common for headline-writers to use a short word even if a longer synonym is more familiar, but I've not come across 'inks deal' before. Then parsing the words after the second comma entails correcting a couple of syntax errors: 'develop' turns out to be the first in a list of 3 verbs, and there should have been an 'and' between the last two; and it turns out that there is no third verb to parallel 'pips' and 'inks', which therefore need an 'and' between them. So, puzzling commas and puzzling syntax.

    [VHM: It's very common for athletes to "ink" a contract (sign a deal) with the management of the team for which they'll be playing. Something strange about the lack of a comma between "maintain" and "support". I noticed that before I made the post and was going to add one, but then let it stand because I didn't want to "improve" what I saw in the original. However, this morning I see in the online version of the newspaper that the there is a comma between "maintain" and "support", so maybe they've fixed it, though it is conceivable that I made an error in copying. But that's unlikely for three reasons: 1. I noticed the lack of a comma, 2. I was thinking of adding one, 3. I copied and pasted the headline (didn't type it myself).]

  9. Doreen said,

    February 22, 2021 @ 5:11 am

    I agree with Bathrobe. To pip someone [at the post] is common in British journalese. The US journalese/headlinese equivalent would be to edge someone [out].

  10. TonyK said,

    February 22, 2021 @ 5:56 am

    Cleverly designed to be incomprehensible on both sides of the Atlantic – we don't understand "inks" and you don't understand "pips".

  11. Victor Mair said,

    February 22, 2021 @ 6:14 am


    Interesting point!

    And the Deccan Herald is from India.

  12. Bathrobe said,

    February 22, 2021 @ 6:57 am

    "It gives me the pip" is also quite familiar to me.


    The pips in fruit, and

    Short electronically produced tones (e.g. "pip pip pip pip PING", where PING represents the hour, e.g. 7:00 p.m.)

    The others less so.

  13. Charles in Toronto said,

    February 22, 2021 @ 8:26 am

    Speaking as a Canadian, the only familiar sense to me were the noun III(2) military rank pips, probably because of Star Trek; noun V(1) forex pips, and verb II(1) as a bird sound. However "inks" is very familiar in headlines and to me I do not attribute it to sports at all. It just means to sign a business deal.

  14. Alexander Browne said,

    February 22, 2021 @ 8:38 am

    Personally, I got sidetracked at “Bath star”.

  15. Terry Hunt said,

    February 22, 2021 @ 10:26 am

    "Inks" in the specific sense of "finalises and signs a contract" strikes me as typical Varietyese: I wonder if it originated there or has a longer pedigree? My (paper) OED is silent on the point.

  16. cameron said,

    February 22, 2021 @ 10:54 am

    Ben Yagoda did a piece on "pip" in this sense on his site back in 2013:

  17. Robert Coren said,

    February 22, 2021 @ 10:57 am

    II.1 (seeds of a fruit) is familiar to me, and I was surprised to see it labeled "Obsolete". But then I realized that it was familiar to me because of a recipe for cranberry bread, written on a 3×5 card, that we use annually; "Juice and rind of one orange (cut up minus pips and blend)". This was written by my husband's ex-wife, who spent much of her teens (late 1950s-early '60s) in England, and has retained quite a few bits of British usage.

  18. Stephen Hart said,

    February 22, 2021 @ 11:13 am

    I wonder to what extent "ink" a contract (sign a deal) is approaching similarity to dial a phone.

  19. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 22, 2021 @ 11:42 am

    I knew this usage of "pip" as a verb, but only for the same reason I know e.g. that "lorry" is what certain non-Americans call a truck and "lift" is what they call an elevator, i.e. I picked it up at some earlier point in my life from books or other texts written in non-American varieties of English.

    "Pip" of course shares with "ink" the property of being very short in terms of character count, which makes both words of considerable value to writers of headlinese.

  20. Shad Daly said,

    February 22, 2021 @ 1:05 pm

    I know pip as "seed" from the Sherlock Holmes story "The Five Orange Pips", and nowhere else

  21. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 22, 2021 @ 2:48 pm

    Am I the only one who learned "pip" for "seed" from Sherlock Holmes, and was puzzled about whether Watson meant five seeds (or something) from an orange or five orange-colored things?

    First time writer: Maybe the name of Gladys Knight's Pips came from the nickname of one of them them, but surely they thought it was a good name because it meant something excellent.

    Michael Watts: This American knew that sense of "pip" as old slang, though in my experience it's mostly been ironic.

  22. Jerry Packard said,

    February 22, 2021 @ 5:00 pm

    In the world of table tennis, the term 'pips' refers to the little dots on the rubber of the paddle. So 'pips in' or 'inverted pips' means paddle rubber with a smooth surface, 'pips out' means paddle rubber with the pips on the outside, and 'long pips' refers to rubber with long, soft pips or what is called 'junk rubber', because it has strange, 'knuckle-ball' effects on the ball.

  23. Stephen Hart said,

    February 22, 2021 @ 6:20 pm

    "Pip" is also a term of art for the 5th string nut on a 5-string banjo.
    It's actually just a string guide, a small dowel of bone with a slot. The string actually rides on the 5th fret.
    Some inexpensive old banjos used a brass round head screw.

  24. Pamela said,

    February 22, 2021 @ 8:03 pm

    I'm with the "pipped at the post" crowd here. maybe it is less regional than generational; i'm not haring a lot of this from people under 60. i think of pip as meaning "pck" as in "picked off" (as with a gun). could it just (in some instances) be a variant of pick? alternatively, if "pip" is a kind of reference to scattershot (looking like fruit pips), it would be another way of getting at the same meaning.

  25. Brett said,

    February 23, 2021 @ 2:05 am

    "pipped" or "pipped at the post" is very common in Australian English — so common it took me a moment to work out what the difficulty was with that headline.

    "pip" for "seed" is also very common (and certainly not obsolete), but only for certain types of small seeds. Contrary to Wiktionary, I would not call the seed of a peach a "pip" — it's too big (I'd call it a "stone" instead).

  26. Philip Anderson said,

    February 23, 2021 @ 4:51 am

    I’m familiar with most of these meanings, except the disease:
    “Squeeze him until the pips squeak”
    “pip emma” (obsolete)
    “6 o’clock pips”
    “Pipped at the post”

    They seem to be particularly British, with diverse origins:

    I’d not seen “ink (a) deal” before, but the meaning was obvious. I don’t feel it needs an “and” before it.

  27. Bloix said,

    February 23, 2021 @ 4:56 am

    Pamela – I've always assumed that to be pipped at the post means to be overtaken at the finish line by a margin no wider than an apple seed. Maybe I just made that up – wouldn't be the first time.

    Currently the big Anglo-American divide is jab vs. shot. Americans find jab bizarre and hilarious, although really, it's less odd than shot.

  28. Philip Anderson said,

    February 23, 2021 @ 4:59 am

    I agree that pips are small seeds. Oxford gives the peach/plum usage as South African, not British. Pips are smaller and thinner, stones bigger and harder. E.g. Cherry stones.

  29. Jan said,

    February 23, 2021 @ 12:58 pm

    A cherry/peach stone is also known as a pit.

  30. john burke said,

    February 23, 2021 @ 5:00 pm

    @Philip Anderson: the complement of "pip emma" was "ack emma."

  31. Vincent Daly said,

    February 23, 2021 @ 7:38 pm

    @john burke And anti-aircraft was ack ack. Signal Corps alphabet before Alfa Bravo Charlie etc.

    I imagine that that "pipsqueak" in the sense of "small, insignificant person" comes somehow from squeezing someone until the pips squeak, but the path from A to B is not obvious.

  32. maidhc said,

    February 23, 2021 @ 9:33 pm

    In the cartoon

    Bimbo's Initiation (1931)
    Bimbo the dog refuses to be initiated into the Mystic Order of the Boom Boom a Hotcha by robed figures until he discovers that Betty Boop leads the group and she asks him, "Wanna be a membah?"

    when Bimbo meets Betty, he says "She's a pippin!", which puzzled me because I thought a Pippin was a kind of apple. But I guess that a pippin is just something really good, so naming an apple a Pippin is like calling it Acme or Peerless.

  33. Michael Watts said,

    February 24, 2021 @ 5:28 am

    I find the comic synopsis weird for unrelated reasons. Did "bimbo" have the same meaning in 1931 that it does now?

  34. Peter Taylor said,

    February 24, 2021 @ 5:48 am

    @TonyK, this British English speaker had no problem with any of the headline.

    @Terry Hunt, the online OED says

    Draft additions 1993

    3. To conclude (a business deal) by signing a contract; hence, to sign (a contract). Also, to obtain the services of (someone) under contract. slang (chiefly Cinematography and Sport). Originally U.S.

    1940 Variety 18 Dec. 5/5 William A. Seiter inked a deal to produce and direct two features for Universal.

    and later citations.

  35. Kate Bunting said,

    February 24, 2021 @ 1:47 pm

    I was surprised to learn, only recently, from another forum that Americans don't call them 'orange pips'.

  36. Thomas Rees said,

    February 24, 2021 @ 8:18 pm

    @Michael Watts, Bimbo the dog was Betty Boop’s boyfriend (!?)

  37. Laichar said,

    February 24, 2021 @ 8:28 pm

    Any relation to the word "quip"?

  38. Bloix said,

    February 26, 2021 @ 8:46 am

    Bimbo is Italian for baby boy. Bimbo had a number of meanings in US slang in the first few decades of the 20th century. It would have been an appropriate name for a male dog in 1931, when the modern meaning had begun to emerge but wasn't dominant.

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