We mostly associate lanyards with something your company or business requires you to wear for security purposes. Or at corporate events and trade shows where they are handed out like sweets for promotional purposes. Maybe you’ve been at a festival and either been the lucky one with a VIP pass hanging around your neck, or watched on with envious eyes as those people flashed their credentials. Lanyards are synonymous with access and security, but they are such an everyday object that most people don’t even realise they’re using them. Keys would be more frequently misplaced without lanyards, wallets much the same! Game consoles that use motion sensors attached to the wrist are another common-place example. They can be used for a myriad of objects and purposes.
So it’s a simple enough idea and the word lanyard comes from the French word ‘laniere’ which literally translates as strap or thong. Which is exactly what it is, regardless of the object hanging from the end of it. A common misconception when talking about lanyards, especially when in reference to identification, is that it must mean also mean the badge. This is not the case, ‘lanyard’ only refers to the strap, not any of the accoutrements.
So we know of it’s modern uses, we even know what the word means, but where does the idea come from? Despite it’s humble appearance, the lanyard has roots originating in the 1700’s, during the golden age of sail and piracy when maritime endeavors were at their pinnacle. As sailors often faced death from a wide range of sources, they had to be wily, resulting in some inspired pieces of ingenuity. When having to clamber up and fix rigging, often on storm tossed seas, French sailors used straps to tighten the ropes and devised a way to carry their knives and marlinspikes which meant they had their hands free. A loop of rope and string around their tools tied together with a diamond knot formed the first lanyards. A lot safer than climbing with your knife between your teeth!
So after it’s origins on the high seas, the lanyard became commonplace in the French military. Cuirassiers, a unit of French cavalry, used a type of braided lanyard to hold their swords in place. But they were also frequently used to attach swords, pistols and whistles (both at sea - called a bosun’s pipe - and on land for signaling purposes) to all military uniforms, not just the cuirassiers. This technique was also adopted by both British and American militaries. During World War two the British “gunners” used lanyards for firing artillery and arming the fuze mechanism on aircraft bombs. In America, a lanyard to attach pistols to a uniform is still in use today.
As well as for practical purposes, various militaries adopted lanyards for recognition and ornamental uses. The use of colours often denoted which regiment a soldier belonged to, as well as to differentiate the high ranking officials from the servicemen, with most militaries now using them as decorative awards and honours for service i.e.. The British Royal Artillery have white braided lanyards as part of their uniform to distinguish them from other regiments and the orange lanyard of The Military Order of William is the highest honour awarded by the Netherlands.
As time moved inevitably forward, the simple idea of a lanyard became useful in many other industries. Lineman lanyards are deployed by the construction industry to prevent falls when labourers and engineers are working at heights and this technology has also been adopted by mountain climbers for the same reason. In industrial settings, safety lanyards are often attached to kill switches on dangerous machinery.
As the world got larger and identification became more important, the medical industry began to use lanyards as a convenient solution for ID badges. Enabling medical staff to quickly and easily identify themselves proved a turning point for the humble lanyard. It became widely used for access and security purposes across all professions and the most likely reason you have owned or used one. Due to the varying nature of purposes, most lanyards today are fitted with a breakaway system, so when pressure is applied the lanyard releases from the accessory, meaning there is less risk of choking if the lanyard is being worn around the neck.
Whilst industries the world over were adapting the simple lanyard to suit their needs, the French were creating a fun game for children. Called scoubidou, it involves making lanyards from strands of rope or other materials. This craft has seen a resurgence in modern times, it’s known colloquially as “boondoggle” and is created with thin plastic tubing. Brightly coloured patterns can be woven by tying different knots together and is a fun pastime for both adults and children alike!
Nowadays, the promotional aspect of lanyards are what appeals to businesses. Easy and relatively inexpensive, the lanyard is now a primary advertising tool. From it’s origins of a bit of spare rope, to being printed, laminated, woven, dyed in all colours, the lanyard’s versatility is what makes it so unique. So when you next wear one, be it for safety, fun, marketing, identification or security, then maybe a little bit of you will think, this is all thanks to a French pirate!