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Published: December 17, 2020

Why are lanyards called lanyards?

Its a question we sometimes hear from our customer "Why are lanyards called lanyards?" Well, we’re all familiar with modern-day lanyards. They’re the attire of choice for conference attendees and parents love them for keeping track of small items for their little ones. But how much do we actually know about these humble bits of cord?

As a lanyard company, we felt obliged to do a little bit of digging and find out how lanyards got their name and why we still call them this to this day. There’s a bit of history, language and design involved in this, so get comfortable while we learn the origins of this everyday word.

Why are lanyards called lanyards?

The first lanyards ever used

You might be surprised to learn that lanyards date back to 15th century France. A lanière was a strap-on apparatus or thong that would allow French soldiers to keep weapons and other items close to hand.

Throughout history, lanyards have primarily been used by the military to help keep things organised and to hand. Small weapons like knives and other items such as a Bosun's pipe would include a string loop that would help the wearer to get a better grip of the small handle. It would also help to ensure they don’t drop anything in the heat of battle.

The origins of the name

The French word “lanière” translates to strap, and this was eventually adapted into “lanyard”. A lanyard can also refer to a kind of rigging on a ship that would be used to secure items. In this sense, the word refers to any string or rope loop that is used to secure items. Whether you are holding a conference ID badge, a military whistle or cargo on the deck of a ship, all can be said to be held in place by a lanyard.

Lanyards and the military

Lanyards hold a special place in the military. In the early French military, lanyards would commonly be attached to pistols, swords and whistles to help mounted cavalry and naval officers keep hold of important items. These lanyards would be semi-permanently attached to their uniform, which paved the way for modern ornate military uniforms.

In British military uniform, members of the British Royal Artillery would wear a lanyard with a key attached to allow them to adjust the fuzes of explosive shells. Keeping this key close to hand in a tense situation could only be achieved with the help of a lanyard attached to their uniform.

Colour combinations and lengths of braided cord are often used to demonstrate an officers rank and seniority. While no longer functional, lanyards still play an important role in military uniform.

Lanyards in the Westerns

Lanyards are also commonplace on pistols. This can help to keep the pistol and the owner united, even if the owner has no time to place their gun back in the holster. This can prevent the gun from falling into enemy hands.

In the 1966 Spaghetti Western, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Tuco Ramirez was supposed to carry his pistol on a leather cord lanyard around his neck. It was thought that this would lend his character a unique intrigue. But when asking how he was supposed to get the gun into his hand, the actor playing the part determined that the gun instead needed to be at his hip in a holster.

Pistol holsters are now commonplace as a security feature to ensure they cannot be dropped or lost in a struggle.

Modern-day use for lanyards 

Although they have roots in military history, lanyards are more common in leisure settings today. Modern-day lanyards may be used to hold identification badges, hold a whistle for sports, or organise important items while doing psychically demanding activity. These are some of the most common uses for lanyards today:

  • As a safety strap. Lanyards are often used for what is known as a “dead man’s switch”. You might see these at the gym on the treadmill. If you fall, the lanyard will pull a component out of the machine and power down the machine so that you aren’t injured further. These are also seen on jet skis or large industrial machinery. The police may also wear a lanyard to keep firearms attached to their person.
  • To prevent falls. Lineman lanyards are heavy-duty attachments used by workers and recreational climbers to help prevent falls. These loops of material attach to carabiners on a harness and allow you to move between anchor points on a safety wire while always being clipped on. This can help to prevent falls when working at height.
  • For storage. Lanyards are commonly used to house ID cards, keys, badges and maps. They can also be used to identify individuals in a leisure setting, such as a conference or event. An access all areas pass for concert or festival might have a gold lanyard, for example.
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