Patches have been put to many purposes over the centuries of the word’s use, so that they may “repair, strengthen, protect, or decorate” a surface (Oxford English Dictionary online). In the 17th and 18th centuries, they could be a form of facial decoration, in small pieces of black silk or velvet used as a fashion statement, or to cover skin blemishes such as pock marks. By the 20th century, the patch had become the badge of affiliation stitched onto the uniforms of soldiers and sailors, and a term in prison slang for the patches on prisoners’ uniforms that would identify them as escapees. These uses of patch underlie the verb patch out, which in bikie slang means severing connections with the motorcycle club, by “handing in one’s colours”– as well as one’s motorbike and other assets – reports in Australian newspapers state. This underworld use of patch out coexists with established technical uses in electronic engineering, where digital circuits may be patched in and patched out to create special sound effects through a synthesiser. Meanwhile, patch out has surfaced in American slang to refer to making a very quick getaway in a car, when the wheels spin and leave patches of black rubber on the road. The driver thereby leaves his mark – and chances are he doesn’t intend to return any time soon.
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