What Is a Loophole? – Meaning, Origin & Examples

Photo of author

Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

Figurative terms are usually derived from a more denotative use of action or item and help provide an interesting way of adding details to speech and writing.

The word loophole is a great example of this. It has roots in a descriptive 16th-century protective measure and is now almost exclusively used as a figure of speech to describe a mistake or ambiguity in the law that can be applied to legal matters.

Plus, it’s fun to say.

Words like loophole can be confusing to non-native English speakers because they don’t have a true literal modern use that makes sense. Let’s see what a loophole is and how you can use it in your work.

What Is the Meaning of a Loophole?

Grammarist Article Graphic V5 3

A loophole is a miswritten law, ambiguity in the law, or a set of rules that allows someone to circumvent the law or a set of rules.

It is derived from its literal use, a slit in a wall, allowing the people within to watch for approaching enemies. They were then used to shoot at attackers. Figuratively, loopholes are “holes” or “faults” in legal documents or laws that are recognized and taken advantage of to advance an argument.

What Is the Origin of the Term Loophole?

Loophole Ngram
Figurative Use of Loophole

Interestingly, the word loophole goes back to the sixteenth century and refers to an architectural feature. In castles of the time, narrow slits were built into the walls where archers could watch for and shoot at attackers. These narrow slits were known as loopholes, and the etymology most likely derived from the Dutch word lûpen, meaning to watch.

The term loophole came into use in the seventeenth century figuratively to mean a small opening or an outlet of escape. It soon became applied to legal issues, allowing those practicing the law to find (or watch for) loopholes or ambiguities in the law that could be applied to court matters.

Today the term is used almost exclusively in reference to the law or in legal documents.

Using Loophole in Sentences

  • Many loopholes in tax laws allow people to take advantage of certain credits to get more money back.
  • The loopholes pertaining to immigration laws sometimes allow criminals to evade deportation.
  • A strange wording in the local laws provides a loophole for anyone to use your private driveway to park in if you live within city limits.
  • My landlord tried to evict me over keeping a cat in the apartment. But luckily, my cat and I were able to stay due to a loophole in my contract stating no dogs were allowed, with no mention of cats.
  • Sandra felt it was wrong that her neighbor’s business profits were written off as charity donations due to an obscure tax law loophole that allowed them to register as such.

Let’s Review

A loophole is a symbolic way to say there is a hole or ambiguity in a written document to allow circumventing rules or laws. Originating from the literal description of a slotted hole in a wall during the 1500s, these openings allowed people to watch for anyone approaching a castle and attack without being seen if needed.

Used today, it allows people to see a way to get away with something. Loopholes in legal documents are often obscure and made by mistake or refer to outdated rules or laws. When used, they usually trigger a rewriting or rewording to avoid its use again.