Where did the term apron come from?

Follow up question as suggested by @Pyritie.

  • 16
    $\begingroup$ Because it's worn by the airport to protect the terminal from grease splatters? $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Dec 14 '15 at 18:58
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ In US apron may refer to the area where the drive of a house meets the road. The "apron" may comes from that meaning, but i dont sure which exist first. $\endgroup$
    – Him
    Dec 14 '15 at 22:38
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Coming soon to a Hot Network Question list near you: "Why do we call it an airplane?" $\endgroup$
    – corsiKa
    Dec 14 '15 at 23:29
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It is not an airplane and never has been The word is "aircraft". $\endgroup$
    – RedSonja
    Dec 15 '15 at 9:17
  • $\begingroup$ @RedSonja: Airplane is correct. Aircraft includes powered fixed-wing (airplane / aeroplane), non-powered fixed-wing (glider), and rotorcraft (helicopter), aerostat, and other things that have wings, boyancy or rotors. See this example of classification for aircraft. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Dec 16 '15 at 8:22

Airport apron refers to the area of an airport where aircraft are parked, unloaded or loaded, refueled, or boarded and looks like this:


Image from airplane-pictures.net

This probably originated from the word defining theatrical apron:

1903 A. B. WALKLEY Dramatic Criticism 108 The ‘apron’ is the technical name for the stage-area in front of the curtain. In the Elizabethan theatre it jutted right out among the public, who surrounded it on three sides. This ‘apron’ slowly shrank..till at last in our day it has altogether disappeared.

As the airport apron looks similar to this, it probably go its name. The following image shows an apron stage (The Visy Theatre in Brisbane Powerhouse)


Image from gtaust.com

As for why its like this, the following explanation seems the most plausible:

Waay back in the day, airports were simply 1/2 mile or 3/4 mile squares of flat grass-covered former farm field with a small terminal building in one corner. Planes landed & took off on the grass, and parked in front of the building to load & unload.

Given the reality of rain & snow, the area in front of the building would get muddier faster thatn the rest of the field. Between plane traffic, fuel truck traffic, cargo wagon traffic & passengers (& horses), churning the surface to mud would be pretty much a sure thing.

A pretty obvious innovation would be to pave a more-or-less fan-shaped area in front of the building where the airplanes could park.

Which when viewed from above, would look like an apron

As for tarmac, it is simply a synonym for Asphalt, which was used in apron's construction.

Note: The historical term apron bears similarities to modern ramp, as in 'walk the ramp'

  • $\begingroup$ But where does the theater apron stage come from? Apparently from another French word napperon (little napkin). $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Dec 15 '15 at 18:21

Apron may be the result of a wrong translation from French vocabulary (France had an active role in aviation history).

  1. The circulation area of a bridge is named tablier (roadway) in French. Actually tablier is used to designate many flat engineered surfaces (it comes from Latin tabula, table).

    enter image description here

  2. Tablier is also the apron, the overall used for housework.

    enter image description here

I suspect the intent of the translation was to use the flat area meaning, but the other sense was used and apron was wrongly retained for the equivalent of a flat area.

In French the airfield apron is aire de stationnement (parking area) but tarmac is also common in medias.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ That sounds plausible. Do you have a citation for the suggestion that it was a mis-translation or is it just a personal theory? $\endgroup$ Dec 14 '15 at 20:46
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ And tarmac, as neat as it sounds on tv is not a material used for ramps - or aprons. $\endgroup$
    – TomMcW
    Dec 14 '15 at 20:48
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby asphalt and tarmac are two different things, although in British English they often use the terms interchangeably. Actual tarmac is an older method of construction using tar. Probably wouldn't hold up under big aircraft. But I'm just being pedantic. Feel free to ignore me $\endgroup$
    – TomMcW
    Dec 14 '15 at 23:35
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    $\begingroup$ @TomMcW distinguishing between Tarmac (aggregate and tar) and asphalt concrete (aggregate and bitumen, which a lot of people also call tar) seems needlessly pedantic. Anyone using the word "tarmac" in the last 50 years is almost certainly using it an a synonym of "asphalt concrete". $\endgroup$ Dec 15 '15 at 1:00
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby Hair splitting is one of my specialties! $\endgroup$
    – TomMcW
    Dec 15 '15 at 1:15

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