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Would you tell me what it means when someone's credit taps? Here is the context:

On the morning of November 20, Norfleet again rode for home. He had lost $20,000, true, but if he now raised an additional $25,000, he would recoup all losses and even come out ahead. His credit tapped, he turned to his brother-in-law.

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The credit did not tap, it had been tapped.

To "tap" a resource means to use it, whether in part or in whole, often in a way that depletes it. It's a metaphor for taking a liquid out of something (or, in different contexts from your quote, for doing so for the first time).

"Tapped" then means used, utilized, or depleted. In the context of your quote, you can see that it's intended to mean "fully utilized" or "used up". Sometimes "tapped out" is used for this meaning.

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It literally means to dry up completely, or to be stopped - like turning off a tap stops the flow of water.

In the context of credit, it means that it has been exhausted, run out, or stopped.

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  • I haven't seen "tap" used to mean to turn off or stop something. For example, I don't think the bank would "tap" his credit to limit him, they would "cap" or "freeze" it instead. I think it's more based on putting a tap into something so that the tap can be turned on, and then the meaning extended from there into it being eventually exhausted.
    – Dan Getz
    May 3 at 10:22
  • In this context, I would likely have used tapped out rather than just tapped. Related is tap into, as "He tapped into his line of credit", which carries the implication that the credit was available but not previously used, and he is now using [some of] it. May 3 at 10:57
  • The usage would seem to be a metaphor, drawing on the imagery of e.g., a beer keg with a spigot (or tap) in it; when one 'taps into' the keg, one is drawing beer from it via the spigot/tap. Similarly, during maple-sugaring season, sugarers tap the maple trees for their sap. May 3 at 11:01

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