Saturday, October 4, 2008

How Did They Get Their Names?

From Wellington boots to bikinis, blue jeans to galoshes, the origins of these words are rich and interesting. Sometimes there is more than one theory to the source of these sayings or phrases; here are some favorites of mine… more to follow in the months to come.

Bandanna – The Hindu word for dyeing
The Hindus called this kind of dyeing Bandnu but over the years the word, coming through the Portuguese, has given us the English Bandanna. The term originated in Indian, as did the technique. The method of providing such colorful design is obtained by tightly knotting the cloth and dipping it in dye; thus some of the cloth retains the original color giving an attractive star burst effect to the finished product.

Petticoat – Not an undergarment but a small coat
Men wore the early petticoat or “little coat”. Men continued to wear petticoats until the eighteenth century, although the garments were later called waistcoats.

Soccus – Loose leather slippers
Comedians of Rome wore masks to depict the characters they impersonated. It is said they also wore loose, leather, slippers called soccus. These slippers were usually worn by women or effeminate men and loosely covered the toes more than the heels.

Wellington Boot – A solution to prevent foot rot
So many soldiers were affected with foot rot which was caused by marching in water logged trenches that the Duke of Wellington designed and commissioned a waterproof boot, hence the name Wellington boot

Blue Jeans – Centuries old usage then and now
This early sixteenth century word, which originally described the cotton material rather than the garment it made, was not named after a person but a city. Jean is a derivation of Genoa, Italy. Denim is similarly derived from the city of Nimes, France. The material was originally called Serge de Nimes. By the way, there really was a gentleman called Levi-Strauss. He lived in San Francisco during the Gold Rush days. It was he who added rivets to the corners of the pockets, making Levis a handy as well as durable pair of pants.

Pea Jacket – Originally a sailor’s garb
It’s believed the origin came from Dutch sailors in the fifteenth century. The coats were made of a coarse cloth suitable for use in rough weather. So where does the word pea come from? The Dutch word for coarse cloth is pijjekker, but as usual, the English had to shorten the name to make it more manageable, hence the term Pea Jacket.

Zipper – Faster than a speeding bullet!
Zip was used as a noun and verb in English as early as 1850. Zip was probably first used to describe the hissing sound of a speeding bullet. It’s believe that zipper was similarly taken from the sound it made by fastening. B.F. Goodrich trademarked the word in 1925. Zippers helped make Goodrich’s overshoes waterproof.

Bikini - Tweeny weenie swimming suit
The bikini takes its name from an atoll in the Marshall Islands where the United States held the atomic bomb tests. We may assume the name came from the scantily dressed inhabitants of Bikini Atoll.

Dungaree – No farmer would be without with these
About 250 years ago, traders brought from India to England a coarsely woven cotton cloth, which was known, in Hindustrani as – dungri. It was first used for sails and tents but seaman started using it for clothing. As time passed, dungi picked up another syllable becoming...dungaree.