Monday, 29 May 2017


weeks ago I looked at how our attire acquired names we use daily without a second thought. Researching same revealed any number of materials used to produce clothes, most of which I hadn't even heard of let alone knew what it was. Hence I decided to produce this follow-up looking at how these terms got their names.

Clearly the majority are likely to be modern, man-made fibres and named to reflect those who first produced and/or marketed same, rather than the more interesting etymologies of the traditional names. Trying to produce this list in chronological order proved something of a nightmare, hence I went for the alphabetical list which makes everything easier to find and also reveals any omissions.

Baize - a woollen fabric typified as much by its plain colours as its nap on one side only. Coming to English from Old French where baies is the plural of the adjective bai meaning 'bay-coloured, itself from the Latin badius 'chestnut -coloured' and thus sharing an etymology with the colour used when referring to a horse. Here the trail leads back to Proto-Indo-European badyo. Now while the horse should correctly be described as 'reddish-bown' the original meaning of the word is both 'yellow' and also 'brown'.

Braid - for obvious reasons referring to the way the cloth is produced as it can also be used to mean 'plait, knit, weave, twist'. The weaving, knitting, plaiting theme has resulted in the use of the word in English and other languages, both contemporary and historical, to mean an amazing array of things. For example Old English bregdan was used in the senses of 'to move quickly, pull, shake, swing, throw (in wrestling), draw (one's sword), change colour, vary, scheme, feign, pretend' as well as those already mentioned. Earlier the term referred to the tight weave-plait-knit producing a finish which saw Proto-Indo-European bherek referring to how it would 'gleam, flash', also seen in Sanskrit bhrasate 'flames, shines, blazes'.

Buckram - another of Old French origins, similar words seen in Spanish and Italian, where boquerant meant 'fine oriental cloth' in the 12th century and whilst latterly this is a coarse fabric often used for lining, originally this was a delicate and most expensive fabric which, from its name, tells us it was imported from the east, most likely central Asia.

Burlap - another coming to English from France, here Old French borel 'coarse cloth' is probably from Old Dutch boeren meaning 'coarse' but this is derived from boer 'peasant'. The second element originally referred to the garment, specifically 'the skirt or flap of a garment' and a word which also led to the reference to the upper part of the legs of a seated person.

Calico - is a corruption of Calicut, a seaport on the Malabar coast of India from whence it was first exported to Europe. When it first appeared in English around 1530, the accepted spelling was kalyko.

Cambric - named from the French place name where it was originally produced. The place name is from the Romano-Gaulish era, probably referring to 'the place of a man named Camarus' although some sources go further and speak of the personal name as a nickname meaning 'that which is twisted or bent'.

Chantilly - of course is the name of the town in France where this lace was originally produced from 1831 - it is also the name of a kind of porcelain, this seen since 1774. The place name refers to itself as 'the place of a man named Cantilius'.

Cheesecloth - having already defined 'cloth' above, suffice to say this was the cloth produced from around 1650 to aid in the production of cheese as this was that in which the curds would be pressed. It won't hurt to add that 'cheese' is derived from Proto-Indo-European kwat 'to ferment, become sour' and an apt description of cheese.

Cloth - is a word first seen in English as referring to the sail or, more often, the woven or felted material wrapped around same. Hence the almost simultaneous use in the sense 'garment'. This can be traced to Proto-Germanic kalithaz, which has given words for 'garment' and/or 'dress' in just about every modern Germanic tongue and all their many early forms. With unchanging forms and use for so long, and then nothing, this is good evidence the term is an early loan word from an unknown, perhaps now lost, language.

Corduroy - is not, as some would have us believe, from the French corde du roi or 'the king's cord', but of English origins where 'cord' and 'duroy' were combined. The latter is a coarse fabric of unknown origins, while 'cord' is an Old French term corde meaning 'rope, string' and derived from Proto-Indo-European ghere 'intestine'.

Cotton - coming to English from Old French, it is thought to be of Egyptian origin and came to Europe from Arabic qutn. Sadly earlier forms and languages are unknown.

Crepe - is named for its crinkled appearance and named, appropriately enough, from the French and Latin crispa 'curled, wrinkled, having curly hair' and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European sker 'to turn, bend'. Note there are over a hundred supposedly different kinds of this material, all with distinctive names which refer solely to their point of manufacture.

Damask - is named after the Syrian city of Damascus, discussed under my earlier look at capital cities is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world and, somewhat predictably, a name which has seen several explations including 'dwelling', 'a well-watered place', 'the land of Levant' and 'industrious'.

Denim - named after the French town, indeed it was originally referred to as serge de Nimes or 'serge from Nimes', with the place name ultimately from the Gaulish nemo 'sanctuary'.

Drill - came to English from the French, itself a German loan word drilich from Latin trilix both meaning 'threefold' and used because of the way the weave is produced. Note this has identical origins with 'trellis'.

Ermine - animals are generally named for either their colour or the sound they make. Here there are equally plausible explanations for both - either this is an eastern European root related to mus 'mouse' or a Germic word for 'weasel' harmo. Note the latter was used in Old English hearma to refer to a 'shrew', likely because a misunderstanding in the sound they make.

Fabric - comes from Latin fabricare 'to make, construct' and ultimately from Proto-Italic fafro and Proto-Indo-European dhabh 'to fit together' and an obvious reference to weaving. Note this root has also given the Armenian word darbin 'a metalworker' and also the English word 'daft' which was originally used to mean 'to put in order, assemble, suitable' before evolving to mean 'well-mannered' and then used ironically to 'dull, awkward' and thereafter 'foolish'.

Fleece - originally referred to it still being on the sheep, this traceable back to Proto-Indo-European pleus 'to pluck' which has also given us the word 'feather', thus it is easy to see how both were seen primarily as filling.

Fur - although we think of 'fur' as being on the animal, this has only been the case since 1400. Prior to that 'fur' applied to the pelt of animal when used as a lining or trimming of a garment. Hence why this comes from Proto-Germanic fodram 'sheath', Old High German fotar 'coat lining', and Gothic fodr 'sword sheath' - all based on the Proto-Indo-European root pa 'to protect'.

Gaberdine - as a cloth is unknown until 1904, however the word had applied to 'a long, loose outer garment' since the early 16th century. Here we can trace the word related to Middle High German wallevart 'pilgrimage' and named from Wallfahrt 'pilgrim's cloak'. The ultimate origin is Proto-Indo-European per 'to lead, pass over'.

Gingham - obtained from the east and a cotton fabric named by Dutch traders as gingang, itself from the Malay ginggang 'striped'.

Hessian - is derived from the use of this coarsely woven fabric in the uniform of the soldiers of Hesse, a place name derived from the Germanic tribe known as the Chatti, itself 'the dwellers on the Hase river', this river name probably simply meaning 'to flow'.

Lace - in 1902 the Century Dictionary records 87 distinct varieties of lace, although there are certainly many, many more. Coming to English from Old French laz, the root is Early Latin laqueum 'noose, snare' and a reference to the twining and braiding of cotton in the production of lace. It shares an etymology with 'lasso' and the Latin lacere 'to entice'.

Lame - a silk interwoven with metallic threads which is why the French lame meant 'thin metal plate' and earlier 'thin strip, blade, sheet, slice' and also shares a root with 'laminate'.

Leather - as one of the earliest materials used for clothing and certainly the most enduring, it is no surprise to find the word has hardly changed in thousands of years since Proto-Indo-European letro.

Linen - the cloth is woven from flax and therefore it comes a no surprise to find the name does, too. Here the Old English lin and Proto-Germanic linam, both meaning 'flax', are but two of many possible examples. Clearly of ancient use and ancient origin, the true root is lost in the mists of time. While it is easily seen as sharing a modern origin with 'lingerie', less obvious is the link to 'woollen'.

Lisle - is named after the French city where it was made, and indeed the city of Lille had long been recorded as Lisle. This comes from the French l'isle meaning 'the island'.

Material - this basic term began in English as an adjective. Here the root is Latin materia 'matter, stuff, wood, timber' and even shares a root with 'matter' in the Proto-Indo-European words associated with the sense of 'origin, source' and even 'mother' which is why the Latin for 'mother' is mater.

Mink - takes its name from the animal, this related to the Swedish menk which has the quite specific meaning of 'a stinking animal in Finland' but not applied to the animal we know in English until 1620.

Nankeen - named from the place where this cotton cloth was first produced, what we would known as Nanking in China takes its name from the Chinese nan jing 'southern capital'.

Nylon - coind in 1938 when this, the world's first synthetic material, used the suffix '-on' because of 'cotton'. There are a number of dubious explanations as to how nylon got its name, the most popular, and seemingly the most convoluted, being that it was originally to be called 'No-Run', but was discarded as this suggested something untrue. Next these letters were reversed to produced 'nuron', this also thrown out owing to it sounding like a nerve tonic (really?). This was then tweaked to 'nilon' and then to 'nylon' to clarify pronunciation.

Organdy - is a fine muslin, the name of unknown origin but it has been suggested it is named after the Uzbekistan city of Urgench, a known cotton textile centre. If so we need to define the place name but I couldn't so we won't mention that and move swiftly on.

Polyester - is a synthetic fibre first created in 1941. A polymer, which is why the inventors named it from 'polymer' and 'ester', and named for very sensible but quite complex reasons. Taking the suffix first, this was coined as it was an acid joined to an alcohol and ultimately from the same root as 'ether' in Proto-Indo-European aidh 'to burn'. 'Polymer' is comprised of two Proto-Indo-European root words: pele 'to fill' and meros, which has also given us 'merit', meaning 'part'.

Rayon - another with the '-on' suffix, this shiny fabric borrowed the name of an earlier cloth, itself named from the French rai 'beam of light, ray' as it was shiny.

Sable - named from the animal, itself probably of eastern European origins, a Slavic word which likely refers to colour but thus far has proven elusive.

Satin - might be from the Chinese place name Zaitun, 'city of olives', now known as Quanzhou or 'place with a spring', although this is likely created to answer a problem no one knows the answer to.

Seersucker - from the Hinda sirsakar, itself a corriuption of Persian shir o shakkar which literally means 'milk and sugar' but refers to the striped effect produced by the alternative rough and smooth surfaces.

Serge - shares an origin with 'silk' (see below) as its early use meant 'silken'.

Silk - named by the Greeks as Serikos, as they obtained their silk from the Seres people of the Serica region of Asia, said to be named from the local word for 'silkworms' from which silk is, of course, produced. However this has been ridiculed by some saying it is ludicrous to think a nation would ever be named after an insect - never heard of ant-arctica then.

Spandex - a proprietary name based on 'expand' as it is noted for its elastic properties, with the oft-seen commercial addition of '-ex'. Oddly 'expand' features the same syllable, albeit as a prefix, this referring to 'out' and from the Proto-Indo-European eghs with the same meaning. The other half is from a French and Latin route, traced back to the same root as 'pace' which, once again, comes from Proto-Indo-European where pete meant 'to spread'.

Suede - is correctly defined as 'undressed kid skin' and named from the middle of the 19th century as gants de Suede, quite literally 'gloves of Sweden'. The name of the nation is from Proto-Germanic, either sweba meaning 'free, independent' or geswion 'kinsman'.

Taffeta - another to come to English along the French and Latin route, here the origin is Persian taftan 'to twist, spin, weave' and shares an etymology with 'tapestry'.

Towelling - comes from the word 'towel', itself seen in many European languages where, although the common root is not known, all seem to refer to material used to protect. Among the examples is the French for towel, Dutch for 'altar cloth', German for 'towel', German for 'napkin', and Old English 'to wash'.

Tulle - is named after the French town where the material was first made, the town being named after Tutela a pagan guardian deity.

Tweed - began as a trade name for a woollen fabric first advertised as 'Tweed fishing trousers' and thus named from the river which simply means 'the dark one'.

Twill - is a Germanic word, seen in Old English twili 'woven with a double thread'.

Velour - again a French and Latin trail, it is named from being 'shaggy, hairy, rough' and shares an etymology with 'velvet' (see below).

Velvet - came to English through French and Latin and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European wel-no 'to tear, to pull' and used in the sense 'rough' as is 'velour' (see above).

Voile - a fine material sharing an etymology with 'veil' in the Proto-Indo-European weg 'to weave a web'.

Wool - irrespective of which European language is examined, all point back to Proto-Indo-European wele meaning simply 'wool'.

Worsted - as many will know the woollen fabric was first made in Norfolk and named after the town of Worstead meaning 'place of a man called Wirda'.

If there are any others I have omitted and you would like to know the origins, drop me a line.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Military Ranks

Browsing the displays of uniforms and insignia at a military museum recently my thoughts soon turned, as usual, to etymology. In particular the military ranks and just why a 'private' seems quite inappropriate.

Marshal - came to English from French, the latter version now seen as marechal and much easier seen as 'stable officer, horse groom' but, as a rank, began in referring to 'an officer in charge of a household' and a rank seen in other languages but, depending on the language group, rather differently. We have already seen the standing for the French, a language of the Latin arm of the Indo-European languages and indeed the Latin languages always have a marshal as a person of importance. Yet when it comes to the other arm of the Western European group, the Germanic tongues, the understanding is quite different. For example the Old English equivalent was a horsthegn, or stable officer - interestingly also the root for the police rank of 'constable' - while Old High German marahscalc 'groom', Frankish marhskalk, Gothic skalks 'servant', and Dutch schalk 'rogue' and very much lower designations.

Commodore - shares an origin with 'commander', both from Old French comandeor, itself the agent noun of the verb 'command'. Tracing the etymology of 'command' we find this to have a common root with 'commend' and 'mandate' in the Latin mandare and ultimately Proto-Indo-European man 'hand' and do 'to give'. Perfectly sensible for one still speaks of 'handing out orders'.

Captain - nothing to do with headgear, this comes from Latin capitaneus 'chief' in the sense of 'prominent'. Taking this back to its ultimate root we find Proto-Indo-European kaput meaning 'head'. Note this is not found in a naval sense until 1560 and no mention in a sporting sense before 1823.

Commander - see 'commodore' above.

Lieutenant - we British traditionally use the pronunciation 'lef-' and have done so since at least the 14th century as evidenced by the documented spelling. Just why this came about nobody has any idea - the Oxford English Dictionary rejects the usual explanation of mistaking the 'U' for a 'V' - but it does call into question a statement I once heard (and often repeat) that "nobody ever mispronounced anything until they could read", it if looks wrong then that is down to spelling. However here this is the exception for judging by every other language where such is used, we Brits have somehow got it quite wrong. Here the rank is made up of two words Old French lieu 'place' and the past participle tenir 'to hold', the latter from Proto-Indo-European ten 'to stretch'. Here the idea is the lieutenant is an officer who often deputises for a higher rank, most often a captain, and thus whilst not translating as such is used in the sense of 'substitute'.

Officer - not used in a military sense until the early 14th century. Clearly from 'office', itself coming to English through the French/Latin route where it literally meant 'work-doing'. and derived from the Proto-Indo-European root op 'to work' and dhe 'to set'. Note this 'office' is the post and not the room, that is unknown before 1560s.

General - used in military sense from 1570s, the noun comes from the adjective and is another coming from the French/Latin source. Here the roots are Latin generalis 'relating to all' and Proto-Indo-European gene 'to give birth' or 'beget'.

Major - has only been a military rank since the 1640s. As a noun it comes from the adjective and again to English from French/Latin. Here Latin magjos is a comparative of magnus 'large, great' and from the Proto-Indo-European root meg 'great'.

Brigadier - seen since the 1670s and another from the French/Latin route, here based on 'brigade', a military division unknown before the 1630s. The Italian brigata means 'troop, crowd, gang' and shares a root with 'brigafe' in brigare 'brawl, fight' and briga 'strife, quarrel. These comparable to Celtic words such as Gaelic brigh and Welsh bri both meaning 'power' and derived from the Proto-Indo-European root dwere 'heavy'.

Colonel - unlike 'lieutenant' (see above), there is an explanation for the pronunciation of 'kernel'. Until the 16th century this appeared as coronel, hence the spelling is wrong as is the norm (see 'lieutenant' above). Middle French coronel, Italian colonnella are both derived from the same root as 'column' or 'pillar'. Here the sense of a solid rectangular formation, albeit tipped on its end, can be traced to the Proto-Indo-European root of kel meaning 'to project, be prominent'.

Admiral - is not seen in its modern sense until the 13th century, and then specifically as amiral de la mer or 'admiral of the sea' which suggests the earlier admirals were not associated with the fleet and this is indeed the case. While 'admiral' came to English from French, for a change this is not Latin but a French loan word of Arabic beginnings. Here the root is a word some crossword puzzlers will be familiar with, for amir is a favourite with American compilers as an alternative (some would say 'correct') spelling for what the British would see as 'emir' and simply means 'commander'. The rank shares its origins with 'admirable', which isn't difficult to see, but the butterfly known as the 'admiral' (named from around 1720) is actually a corruption of 'admirable' and nothing to do with military rank.

Sergeant - seen since the early 13th century, here we go back to the French/Latin trail. Old French sergent meant 'servant' while the Latin servientem referred to 'serving'. Hence we need to find the root of the verb 'to serve' which is simply 'slave'.

Corporal - as the lowest non-commissioned army officer not seen until 1570s, this is another coming from the French/Latin route based on the Latin caput and Proto-Indo-European kaput both meaning 'head'.

Cadet - in a military sense from the 15th century, this shares an origin with 'corporal' (see above) in coming from kaput but here the sense is in 'little head'.

Ensign - seen from the 15th century referring to a flag or pennant, not in the sense of 'rank until 1862, here the word shares a root with 'insignia'. It combines the Proto-Indo-European en 'in' and sekw-no 'to follow', the latter also the root of 'sign'.

Albeit not correctly ranks, I thought it worthwhile also looking at the general terms used in the army, navy and air force of the military.

Solider - has a myriad etymological lines to trace but all essentially mean 'one having pay'.

Sailor - is clearly the agent noun of 'sail, itself traceable to Proto-Indo-European sek meaning 'to cut' and exactly what was required to make a sail from a piece of cloth. Note the term 'sailor' has only been in use since around 1400 (when it was 'sailer'), prior to this it was either 'seaman' or 'mariner'. Looking at these we find 'sea' originally used to mean 'large quantity' and 'man' in the sense 'person' (and thus not sexist in the slightest); while 'mariner' has the ultimate root mori 'body of water'.

Pilot - clearly one could never use this in an aviation sense until the invention of the aeroplane. Earlier balloonists could never be known as 'pilots' as we will see. Many will be aware the use for an airman came from its use in a marine sense, a 'pilot' still steering vessels into harbour, hence this is the sense we need to trace. The term came to English from Middle French pillote, Italian piloto, and Medieval Greek pedotes 'helmsman' and Greek pedon 'steering oar' and all coming from the Proto-Indo-European root ped 'foot'.

Note as the piece is in English, English spelling is used.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

The Whys of Wear

Ever wondered why several items of clothing can never be found in the singular? Now when it comes to socks, shoes and glove then it is quite obvious, but what about trousers and tights? Why can’t you have a trouser or a tight?

Obviously clothing has been around a long time and therefore so have the many names for same. But where do these terms come from? Who named them? And what do they mean?

To find an order proved difficult, sexism was always a likely criticism but, having played with several ideas, ended up taking them in alphabetical order, which also makes it easier to search. Oh, and to find the reason why 'trousers' are plural, see 'breeches'.

Anorak – not seen in English until 1924, this comes from Greenland Eskimo anoraq which simply describes this hooded jacket.

Apron – one of a number of words, adder and umpire are others, which began as ‘a napron’, and continued to be used until the 16th century, but through a process known as ‘faulty separation’ became ‘an apron’. Coming to English from Old French naperon ‘small table cloth’ and ultimately from the Latin mappa ‘napkin’ and further back still to ‘matting’.

Bags – looking at the singular ‘bag’ this is an Old Scandinavian word baggi meaning ‘pack bundle’ around 1200 and only latterly used to mean ‘small sack’. It has a common origin with ‘bellows’ and ‘belly’.

Bandana – first seen in English in 1752, it coming from the Hindi bandhnu which is a method of dyeing (basically the same as the modern tie-dye), itself from Sanskrit badhnati ‘binds’ and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European bhendh ‘to bind’.

Bathrobe – not seen before 1894, this a composite of two words: ‘bath’ can be traced to Proto-Indo-European ‘to warm’; and ‘robe’ which shares an origin with, of all things, ‘rob’ and presumably using both as vestments taken as spoils.

Bearskin – another composite, this seen since the early 19th century, and: ‘bear’ of Germanic origins means ‘the brown one’; and ‘skin’ ultimately from Proto-Indo-European sken ‘to cut off’ and clearly used first and foremost as a verb.

Bedsocks – not seen until the early 20th century, another composite: ‘bed’ is from Proto-Indo-European bhedh ‘to dig, pierce’ and showing the early beds required a bit of digging to allow for the lumpier bits of the body; and ‘socks’, an early 14th century word which began either as Greek sykchos or a similar Asiatic origin, both actually describing a type of shoe.

Belt – seen in English since the 5th century, the word is a Germanic loan word from Latin balteus ‘girdle, sword belt’.

Beret – unknown in English until 1827, this is from Old Gascon berrt meaning simply ‘cap’. Perhaps both the idea of a cap attached to a cape is seen as a Gaulish word related to Latin birrus ‘large hooded cloak’.

Bib – is found in English since 1570, this derived from a now lost verb bibben meaning ‘to drink’ and clearly related to ‘imbibe’.

Bikini – coined in 1948 and, as many will be aware, takes its name from the Bikini atoll of the Marshall Islands where the A-bomb test took place in June 1946. Note the idea of a ‘monokini’, seen since 1964, was down to the mistaken belief the first syllable was a Greek prefix meaning ‘two’, when it is a local word from pik ‘surface’ and ni ‘coconut’.

Blazer – not known until 1880, beginning as British university slang and derived from ‘blaze’ in referring to the red flannel jackets worn by the boating club of Lady Margaret, St John College, Cambridge.

Bloomers – coined in 1851 and named after US feminist reformer Amelia Jenks Bloomer (1818-94) who helped to promote them. Her surname comes from Old English bloma meaning ‘iron worker’.

Boa – as a name for a fur from 1836, it alludes to the snake due to its shape, the word boa is Latin an simply means ‘large snake’.

Bodice – first seen in 1560, this is a very odd spelling as it is the plural of ‘body’. Not difficult to see why ‘body’ for this tight-fitting garment covered the torso, less easy is why it should be plural. ‘Body’ comes from a Germanic term where leib meant simply ‘life’.

Bonnet – first seen in Britain in 14th century Scotland as bonat ‘brimless hat for men’, this coming from Old French bonet an abbreviation of chapel de bonet ‘kind of cloth used as a headdress’, and Latin bonitum ‘material for hats’.

Bowler – named in 1861 and from a J. Bowler, a 19th century London hat manufacturer. There were two other ‘Bowlers’ associated with hats: John Bowler of Surrey and William Bowler of Southwark.

Blouse – again seen in the 19th century and specifically 1822, this is a French word originally meaning ‘smock of a workman or peasant’. It is thought to be derived from Provencal (lano) blouso ‘short (wool)’ or, less likely, from a city of Upper Egypt named Pelusium which was an important clothing manufacturing centre.

Brassiere – known as a ‘bra’ from 1923, the longer version is an 18th century French word originally meaning ‘child’s chemise, shoulder strap’.

Breeches – seen since around 1200, this is an odd double plural. Here Old English brec meant ‘breeches’ before it was pluralised, for brec was already the plural form of broc meaning ‘garment for the legs and trunk’. Now originally the garment was one sided, thus when pluralised it referred to both legs which, with the upper part, crossed over and were tied together to form a single item but clearly plural. That the item was intended to be worn in two halves is likely the reason for it coming from Proto-Indo-European bhreg or ‘break’.

Britches – is a variant of ‘breeches’ and seen as britch from 1620 (the singular) and as ‘britches’ from 1905.

Burberry – a company established in London in 1856 by Thomas Burberry (1835-1926) who specialised in outdoor attire.

Burnous – is from more than 2,000 years ago and a Berber word abernus and shares an origin with the Greek word for ‘cloak’.

Busby – first seen in 1807, this fur hat worn by hussars it was earlier used to describe ‘a bushy tall wig’ in 1764. The origins are unknown but it is both a place name and a surname and seems likely to come from one of these sources.

Bustle – is first seen in 1788, of uncertain origin but possibly from German buschel meaning ‘bunch, pad’ or as in the sound made by these dresses as in a ‘rustling motion’.

Camisole – recorded in England by 1816, this comes from the French where Provencal camisola ‘mantle’ is a diminutive of camisa ‘shirt’.

Cape – seen from the middle of the 16th century, this Old English word has the same origins as Latin cappa ‘hooded cloak’.

Cardigan – first coined in 1868, this was named after James Thomas Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan (1797-1868) who apparently wore such an item when leading the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava. His title comes from the Anglicised version of the Welsh place name Ceredigion meaning ‘Ceredig’s land’, this Welsh chieftain lived in the 5th century.

Chaps – recorded in 1844, this is American English and taken from Mexican Spanish chaparreras named as they protected from the chaparro ‘evergreen oak’ but used here to refer to scrubland in general.

Chemise – seen in the 12th century, this shares an origin with ‘Camisole’ and originally meant ‘shirt’.

Chiton – seen from 1850, this a form of Greek khiton ‘frock, tunic, mail coat’ and worn by both sexes.

Choker – speaks for itself, but we do need to point out this tight-fitting necklace wasn’t named until 1928.

Cloak – a late 13th century word, this from Old French cloque ‘travelling cloak’, and ultimately sharing an origin with ‘bell’ and ‘clock’.

Clog – from the early 14th century, this comes from Old English clogge meaning ‘lump of wood’ and shortly used for the shoe, too. Now the earlier usage is unknown, it certainly does come from the very ‘to clog (up)’ as this comes from the noun – but interestingly, and I make no judgement here, clogge was also used to describe large pieces of jewelry and large testicles.

Coat – a 14th century term ‘outer garment’ and from Frankish kotta ‘coarse cloth’. Not used for animal covering or a layer covering a surface until the 1660s.

Coif – late 13th century, a close-fitting cap from Old French coife ‘headgear’.

Collar – first seen at the end of the 12th century, this originally applied to the collar on a suit of armour and thus it comes as no surprise to find this is from Proto-Indo-European kwol-o ‘neck’.

Comforter – as a scarf from 1823 and an agent noun from ‘comfort’, itself from the Latin intensive prefix com with fortis ‘strong’.

Corset – from 1795 century and clearly a French word, it is a diminutive of cors ‘body’

Cowl – a 6th century word, ultimately from Latin cuculus ‘monk’s hood’.

Crinoline – dating from 1830, this is from the French crinoline ‘hair cloth’.

Cummerbund – seen from 1610, here Hindi kamarband meaning ‘loin band’ and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European bhendh ‘to bind’.

Denims – seen since 1690, from the French serge de Nimes a French town from Gaulish nemo meaning ‘sanctuary’.

Derby – since 1870, a hat worn and probably associated with the race, itself named from the 12th Earl of Derby, and a place name meaning ‘the farmstead where deer are seen’ from Old Scandinavian deor by.

Domino – seen since 1801, this perhaps ‘hood with a cloak worn by canons or priests’ and comparing the black cloak with the tiles (for the game) this is from Latin dominus ‘lord, master’.

Doublet – early 14th century, from Old French doublet a diminutive of duble and from Latin duplus ‘two more’.

Drawers – first seen in 1560, these are simply garments which are ‘drawn on’.

Dungarees – since 1868 made from dungaree, itself from Hindi dungri ‘coarse calico’ and from the village Dongri in India.

Farthingale – since 1550, this hooped dress is from French / Spanish where verdugo ‘young shoot of a tree’ and the contrivance was originally made from cane shoots.

Fatigues – seen from 1836, this came from the duties given to a soldier (and thus the clothes he wore when performing same) and simply describes the soldier’s weariness. Ultimately this can be traced to Proto-Indo-European affatim ag ‘sufficiently set in motion’.

Fedora – since 1887 a type of hat, it was named from a popular play by Victorien Sardo (1831-1908) Fedora. The name comes from a Russian princess Fedora Romanodd, originally portrayed by Sarah Bernhardt who, famed for wearing manish clothes whenever she could, sported a centre-creased soft-brimmed hat. The name is ultimately from the Greek theodoros ‘gift of the gods’.

Fez – from 1802, and the city of Fez in Morocco, a place name meaning ‘pickaxe’ in Arabic. Legends states the founder of the city were marked out by the pickaxe of silver and gold by Idris I of Morocco.

Frock – since the middle of the 14th century and from French froc ‘monk’s clothing’. Probably a loan word from Germanic hroc ‘mantle, coat’.

Frog – a clothes fastening since 1719, possibly from Latin floccus ‘tuft of wool’.

Gaiters – since 1775, from Middle French guestre and Frankish wrist ‘instep’.

Galoshes – from the 14th century, this is probably from the Greek kalopous ‘shoemaker’s last’ itself made up of kalon ‘wood’ and pous ‘foot’.

Garibaldi – since 1862 this blouse is named after Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-82), liberator of Italy.

Gauntlet – since the 15th century used as ‘glove’ and originally from Germanic wintan ‘to wind’.

Girdle – since the 8th century, from a Germanic word meaning ‘to gird’ and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European ghr-dh ‘to grasp’.

Glengarry – the bonnet of Scotland dates from 1841, it is a place name where Glengarry means ‘the valley of the river Garry’.

Glove – since the 8th century and from Old Scandinavian ga a collective prefix and lofi ‘hand’.

Gown – since 1300, from Old French goune ‘habit, gown’. Probably from Latin gunna ‘skin, hide’.

Guernsey – since 1839, a vest of wool worn by seamen and from the island where it was first associated (as with Jersey) and possibly Old Scandinavian for ‘mill island’.

Habit – since the 13th century, it is ultimately from Proto-Indo-European ghabh ‘to give, to receive’.

Homburg – since 1910 and popularised by Edward VII after he visited the town of Bad Homburg in Germany, a place name meaning ‘the bath (spa) of the high fortification’.

Hood – since the 9th century, this is ultimately from Proto-Indo-European kadh ‘to cover’.

Hose – since the 13th century, this is ultimately from Proto-Indo-European keu ‘to cover, conceal’.

Jacket – since the 15th century, this is ultimately from Jacque, the generic name given to all French peasants.

Jeans – since the middle of the 15th century this has been named as it was associated with Genoa, a place name meaning ‘knee’, a description of an angled topographical feature.

Jersey – since 1580 the knitted cloth used to produce the woollen tunic, itself a place name meaning ‘Geirr’s island’.

Jodhpurs – since 1899, the name comes from a place in India, itself named after local ruler Rao Jodha who founded the place in 1459.

Jumper – since 1853, the origin and meaning is completely unknown.

Kerchief – since the early 13th century, it comes from the French couvrechief meaning ‘cover head’.

Kilt – since 1730, comes from a Germanic word meaning ‘to truss, tuck up’.

Kimono – since 1630, and a Japanese expression meaning ‘a thing to put on’.

Kirtle – since the 11th century, it is derived from a word meaning ‘short’ and simply means ‘tunic’.

Knickerbockers – since 1831, this is the alias used by Washington Irving when he published History of New York in 1809 under the pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker. He borrowed this name from his friend Herman Knickerbocker, his name meaning ‘toy marble maker’.

Knickers – since 1866, a shortened form of ‘knickerbockers’.

Leotard – since 1881, named after Jules Leotard (1830-1870) a popular French trapeze artist who wore such a garment.

Levis – since 1926, named after manufacturer Levi Strauss and Company of San Francisco. The Bavarian-born Strauss used copper rivets at stress points to make his jeans longer-lasting.

Lingerie – since 1852, this is French and ultimately from Latin lineus ‘of linen’.

Loincloth – since 1851, a combination of two words beginning as Proto-Indo-European lendh ‘loin’ and Old Frisian klath ‘cloth’.

Mantilla – since 1717, a diminutive of the Spanish manta ‘blanket’.

Mantle – since 6th century, and originally meant simply ‘cloak’.

Mittens – since the latter part of the 14th century, this is from French mitaine meaning ‘half glove’.

Moccasins – since 1700, originally this simply means ‘plaited shoes’.

Muffler – since 1530, an agent noun from ‘muffle’ ultimately meaning simply ‘to wrap’.

Negligee – since 1756, it comes from Latin neglegere ‘to disregard, not trouble about’ and clearly a reference to the flimsy and well-nigh see-through garment.

Nylons – since 1940, it takes the name of the manmade fibre coined by putting together nyl and on meaning ‘no (cott)on’.

Panama – a hat, since 1833, named after a place with a name meaning ‘place of many fish’.

Pantaloons – since 1660, associated with San Pantaleone a Christian martyr and Venetian saint said to have worn tight trousers over his very skinny legs.

Panties – since 1845, a diminutive of ‘pants’.

Pants – since 1893, a diminutive of ‘pantaloons’.

Parka – since 1780, an Aleut word derived from Russia parka meaning ‘pelt’.

Petticoat – since the early 15th century, from the French petite and thus ‘small coat’.

Pinafore – since 1782, originally pinned to the front of the dress, this is why it is called ‘pinned to the front’.

Plus-fours – since 1924, named because they were four inches longer in the leg than similar trousers and thus had an overhang when tucked up.

Pyjamas – since 1800, comes from Hindi and means loose trousers tied at the waist’.

Raglan – since 1863, named for British General Lord Raglan (1788-1855) who commanded forces in the Crimean War and named from a Welsh place name meaning ‘place with a market’.

Robe – since late 13th century, from the same source as ‘bathrobe’.

Rompers – first seen in 1909, the agent noun of romp (which fitted nicely with the suffix seen in trousers) came from ‘romp’ a variant of ‘ramp’ ‘to climb, scale’.

Ruff – since 1520, it is a shortened form of ‘ruffle’, itself meaning ‘to disturb the smoothness of’.

Sabot – since the 13th century, this wooden shoe (which has famously given us ‘sabotage’) simply means ‘old shoe’.

Sandal – since the 14th century, our records only show ‘sandal’ as meaning ‘sandal’ and therefore impossible to trace.

Sari – since 1785, from a Pakrit word sadi meaning ‘garment’.

Scarf – since 1550, comes from Old French escherpe or ‘pilgrim’s purse suspended from the neck’ and ultimately from a number of Middle East words meaning ‘purse’.

Shift – 1590, meaning ‘to make efforts’ and perhaps better seen as ‘change, alteration’.

Shirt – since 1580, this can be traced to Proto-Indo-European sker ‘to cut’.

Shoe – since the 5th century, originates in Proto-Indo-European skeu ‘to cover’.

Singlet – since 1746, an unlined woollen garment and thus ‘of a single thickness’.

Skirt – since the early 14th century, this has exactly the same origin as ‘shirt’.

Slacks – since 1824, as in the sense ‘loose trousers’ first used by the military.

Slip – since 1550, from Middle Dutch slippe meaning ‘cut, slit’.

Slippers – since late 15th century, agent noun from ‘slip’ as in easily ‘slipped’ onto one’s foot.

Smock – since 8th century, A Germanic root simply meaning ‘a narrow hole or gap (for the head)’.

Sneakers – since 1895, as a rubber-soled shoe made the walker’s steps fall noiselessly.

Socks – early 14th century, Old English socc ‘light shoe’.

Soutane – since 1838, from French sotane ‘undershirt’ and ultimately Latin subtus ‘beneath, under’.

Spats – since 1779, a shortening of ‘spatterdash’ to prevent trousers or stockings being spattered with mud.

Sporran – since 1818, from Irish sparan meaning ‘purse’.

Stays – since 1600, plural of stay and a common origin with ‘stake’ it come from Proto-Indo-European stak ‘stand, place’.

Stole – since 9th century, shares an origin with Latin stola ‘robe, vestment’ and Proto-Indo-European stel ‘to put, stand’.

Suit – since 1300, matching garments and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European sekw ‘to follow’.

Sweater – since 1882, was originally worn to produce sweating and to lose weight.

Tabard – about 1300, originally from Latin tapete ‘figured cloth’

Tie – since 1550, obviously from the knot, this from Proto-Indo-European deuk ‘to lead’.

Tights – since 1827, they are indeed tight-fitting.

Toga – since 100, ultimately Proto-Indo-European tog-a ‘a covering’.

Trilby – since 1897, named after Trilby O’Ferrall, eponymous heroine in the novel Trilby by George du Maurier (1834-96).

Trousers – 1610, from Middle Irish triubhas ‘close-fitting shorts’.

Turban – since 1560s, from Turkish tulbent meaning ‘gauze, muslin’.

Tutu – since 1910, an infantile reduplication of cucu meaning ‘bottom, backside’.

Tuxedo – since 1889 and an American place name of Tuxedo Park, New York State, from an Algonquian p’tuck-sepo ‘the crooked river’.

Vest – since 1610, and originally from Proto-Indo-European wes ‘to clothe’.

Wellingtons – since 1817 and famously from Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, the place name meaning ‘the farmstead in the temple clearing’.

Yashmak – since 13th century, this is the Turkish word for ‘veil’.

Sunday, 7 May 2017


I have nothing against metrication. Although if you're going to do it then stop using all imperials measurements - the mile and the pint in particular srill seem to be the norm. And why not do the same for the clock, that will stop people speaking of distances in hours when everyone knows the only way to express distance in a time sense is using the speed of light in a vacuum as a base.

As an author the one former range of sizes I miss most is those once used for paper. Today we simply use 'A' and a number but examine the list below and discover the wonderful expressions once used and where they originated. Note in most cases this requires examining the origin of the word as used in other senses for these are simply late loan words

Antiquarian - a reference to one who studies or well-versed in antiques, this is ultimately from 'antique' - this can be traced to an original meaning of 'before appearance'.

Atlas - undoubtedly coming to refer to paper sizes as this was used for maps, it comes from the god of Greek mythology and used for the book of maps because an image of the god said to hold the world on his shoulders appeared on the Atlas, sive cosmographicae meditationes de fabrica mundi a book of maps published by Flemish geographer Gerhardus Mercator in 1585. The Greek name is said to mean, appropriately enough, 'the bearer (of the heavens) and from Proto-Indo-European tele 'to lift, support' and the prefix a 'not, without'.

Emperor - a loan word from the Latin imperiator.and also 'empire'. The prefix is the same as Latin in 'not' with par-a, a Proto-Indo-European word meaning 'bring forward, bring forth' and mainly used in a 'birthing' sense. What is being said here is the empire is 'not born' but has always been, perhaps not practically but in essence.

Crown - used in many senses, all derived from the original Latin sense of 'wreath'.

Demy - only seen in this spelling for paper, it is easier to understand as 'demi', itself the French for 'half but derived from the suffix dis 'the opposite' and a root me 'between'.

Elephant - clearly a reference to size, the name of the animal has an unknown etymology, one not of Indo-European origins and thus, with few written examples, will likely prove impossible to explain.

Folio - is as it very much appears, a Latin word which means 'leaf' and is derived from Proto-Indo-European bhol-yo with the same meaning.

Foolscap - only ever having heard this and never in writing, as a child I always thought tis was 'fullscap'. Delightful if fairly recent etymology, the 'foo's cap' was that worn by a jester and used from around 1700 for the paper as it was originally watermarked with this very image.

Grand eagle - two words to define here, both with Proto-Indo-European origins. 'Grand' comes a word specifically meaning 'adult male relative other than the father' while 'eagle' is simply 'a great bird'.

Imperial - shares its etymology with 'emperor' above.

Octavo - is the Latin word for 'in the eighth' as was a printer's word for sheets folded so as to make eight leaves. Clearly the origin is the same as the Greek word for 'eight' which is ostensibly the same as the Proto-Indo-European okto and simply means 'eight'.

Princess - the female version of 'prince', itself sharing a root with 'prime' in Proto-Indo-European capere 'to take' and ultimately kap 'to grasp'.

Royal Sixto - again two words to define. 'Royal' began as a Proto-Indo-European adjective reg meaning 'move in a straight line'; while is similar to 'octavo' above except this is based on six.

Sheet - shares an origin with the cloth variety, originall meaning 'shroud' in Germanic languages but came from the Proto-Indo-European root skeud 'to chase, throw'.

Sixmo - again similar to 'octavo' above but based on six.

Still in use, at least to some degree, are the names given to the range of paper types. Again these often have to be looked at as words used in other sense as they ostensibly loan words.

Bank - began as the rise of land where Proto-Indo-European meant 'shelf' in the topographical sense.

Bond - etymologically speaking this is a variant of 'band', itself a variant of 'bind' which is exactly what the Proto-Indo-European bhendh meant and is also clearly the origin of 'bend'.

Brief - as a noun predates the verb (17th and 19th centuries respectively). However the adjective is much earlier, seen in English since the 13th century and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European mregh-u 'short'.

Cartridge - is a corruption of 'cartouche', a scroll-like ornament or a paper cartridge, then borrowed for 'a full charge for a pistol'. It is the 'paper' sense which is important, for this shaes a root with 'card'and 'chart' in the Greek khartes referring to 'a layer of papyrus' and itself derived from the Proto-Indo-European kars 'to scrape' in showing how paper from papyrus was produced.

Carbon - ultimately from the same root as 'coal, charcoal' and the rest in Proto-Indo-European ker or 'fire'.

Copy - can be traced to Proto-Indo-European op meaning 'to work, produce in abundance'.

Duplicating - is from 'duplicate' seen as a noun and an adjective but began as a verb. The first part is related to 'duo' meaning 'two' while the suffix comes from the same root as 'ply' or 'fold'.

Typing - is clearly derived from 'type' and this can be traced back to Proto-Indo-European tup meaning 'to strike, beat, knock'.

Wall - as in 'wallpaper' and comes from Proto-Indo-European walso meaning 'post' and what one needs to build a wall.

News - one of my least favourite things, but it does come from 'new' which, ironically, is not a new word at all, indeed Proto-Indo-European newo meant the same thing and it has probably changed little for thousands of years.

Wrapping - clearly derived from 'wrap', this first used as a verb and traced to Proto-Indo-European wer meaning 'to turn, bend'.

Greaseproof - clearly a combination of two words where 'grease' began in the Latin group of languages meaning 'thick, solid, fat', and 'proof' from 'prove' and Proto-Indo-European pro-bhwo 'being in front'.

Silver - as mentioned in earlier posts looking at colours, metals and elements and simply means 'white, shining'.