A pat (or tap) is a very light slap. A pat is given with the fingers or the palm of the hand, e.g. on someone's shoulder, back, arm, thigh, or buttocks. The corresponding verb is to pat. The word pat is an onomatopoeia and can also refer to the sound of a light slap or tap, such as a footstep.
In German, a pat is called a Klaps.
Patting someone on their back or shoulder is often done as a gesture of encouragement or praise ("you can do it" or "well done"). Patting someone on their shoulder, arm or thigh is occasionally done to get their attention, e.g. when they can't hear you. Parents or elder siblings often pat little children on their bottom when they send them off to go somewhere, e.g. to bed.
Because it is so very light, a pat has little or no connotations with punishment or violence — except that a pat on the bottom, because of the location, might be symbolic for (or a reminder of) spanking.
Patting in spanking
Patting is different from spanking mostly in that it is much lighter so it does not cause any pain. In the context of a spanking, light spanks (pats) can be used e.g. in the beginning of a spanking for a teasingly slow start, before progressing to real spanks. When a spankee has been patted (spanked very lightly) for several minutes, they will often develop a longing for harder spanks. So the technique of patting, as opposed to a hard start, can be very effective especially with spankees who are not too much into pain, or those who need time to relax into the sensation and situation of being spanked. These light taps are sometime referred to as "love taps" and are usually a stimulant in preparation for the "real thing" spanking that are forth coming. Also, a spanker may use both hands and tap his thighs as an indicator for the spankee to place him or herself over the lap of the spanker.
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