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12 Hats And How They Got Their Names

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Sun hats, floppy hats, baseball caps, bucket hats: It’s easy to guess where the names of these hats come from. But what about fedoras, trilbies, and other headwear we’re donning this days? For the origins of these hat words, we’ll have to have a look under the etymological bonnet.

1. BEANIE

The name of this wintertime warmer, first recorded in the 1940s, is a pet form of bean, early 20th-century American slang for head. The term probably originates in baseball lingo: a beanball is a pitch thrown at a batter’s head; the term then expanded to refer to the head in general. Many Canadians call this cap a tuque, from the French toque, which is the term used for a wide variety of brimless hats—nowadays usually the tall, white chef’s cap.

2. BERET

We may associate berets with Parisian fashionistas or U.S. Army Special Forces, but berets began on the heads of Basque peasants. The word, coming into English from French, ultimately goes back to the Latin birrus. A birrus wasn’t exactly a hat, though; it was a kind of a hooded cloak.

3. BOWLER

The bowler calls up Victorian London—and for good etymological reason. The hat might be named after Thomas and William Bowler, milliners who, in the 1850s, sought a patent for "improvements in hats and other coverings for the head." But bowl, related to the word ball, was once a word for various spherical things in English. And heads, last time we checked, are indeed round.

4. CLOCHE

The cloche hat, all the vogue among women in the Roaring ’20s, is often described as “bell-shaped.” That’s exactly what cloche means in French: bell. Cloche, in turn, is from the Latin for bell, clocca, which could mark the time of day, hence English’s clock.

5. DEERSTALKER

Most will know this hat for the head it sat on: Sherlock Holmes. His iconic hat, though, is properly called a deerstalker, a British term for a very stealthy hunter of, yes, deer. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never put the hat on his detective’s head; that was the work of illustrator Sidney Paget, who outfitted Sherlock for sleuthing set in the country.

6. DERBY

Speaking of deer, many Americans will know the bowler hat as the derby. In 1780, the 12th Earl of Derby started an annual horserace near Epsom, England. Male spectators there, apparently, were known for sporting hats that came to be called derbies. Derby most likely means “deer village,” joining the Old English deor (deer) and the Scandinavian byr (“town”), also the root of bylaw. Derbies, of course, live not just on top of heads, but also in Louisville, Kentucky and roller rinks.

7. FEDORA

The fedora takes its name from a play, Fédora, which became popular in the U.S. in the 1880s. The drama, written by Victorien Sardou, features a Russian princess named Fédora Romanoff, notably played by the French actress Sarah Bernhardt. One story says Bernhardt donned this type of hat during performances of the play. The name Fédora is a variation on Theodora/Theodore, Greek for “gift of god.”

8. MORTARBOARD

Some hats are worn for fashion, some for function. Others are worn to mark special occasions, like the graduate’s mortarboard. The mortarboard resembles, as the Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology puts it, “a square mason’s board for carrying mortar,” that mixture used to bind bricks and stone. The hat has a long and venerable tradition, perhaps inspired by birettas, worn by certain Catholic clergy, a word that, like beret, also comes from the Latin birrus.

9. PORKPIE

Academics’ mortarboards aren’t the only caps named for their shape. The porkpie hat, with its flat top and short, full brim, apparently resembles a porkpie, a savory British dish.

10. SOMBRERO

Forget ceremony. What’s a hat, ultimately, for? Covering the head from the elements. Providing shade. The broad-brimmed sombrero, in design and derivation, reflects this. First referring to an umbrella in English, sombrero is based on the Spanish sombra, from the Latin subumbrare, “to shadow,” literally under (sub) the shadow (umbra). Somber also comes from this root.

11. TRILBY

Fedoras and trilbies have a lot in common. For one, these two soft felt hats are often confused. For another, they both get their names from literary characters. Trilby is the name of an 1894 novel, and protagonist, by George du Maurier. A London staging of the story had Trilby wearing the hat which is now her namesake. Du Maurier’s Trilby also gives us the character, and word, Svengali.

12. ZUCCHETTO

The Pope is a man of many hats, we could say. When giving his tall and pointy miter a rest, he dons a white skull-cap known as a zucchetto. This means “small gourd” in Italian, from zucca (pumpkin). Gourds, as we can imagine, resemble heads, but you probably don’t want to tell the Pope he’s pumpkin-headed.

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Here's the Right Way to Pronounce Kitchenware Brand Le Creuset

If you were never quite sure how to pronounce the name of beloved French kitchenware brand Le Creuset, don't fret: For the longest time, southern chef, author, and PBS personality Vivian Howard wasn't sure either.

In this video from Le Creuset, shared by Food & Wine, Howard prepares to sear some meat in her bright orange Le Creuset pot and explains, "For the longest time I had such a crush on them but I could never verbalize it because I didn’t know how to say it and I was so afraid of sounding like a big old redneck." Listen closely as she demonstrates the official, Le Creuset-endorsed pronunciation at 0:51.

Le Creuset is known for its colorful, cast-iron cookware, which is revered by pro chefs and home cooks everywhere. The company first introduced their durable pots to the world in 1925. Especially popular are their Dutch ovens, which are thick cast-iron pots that have been around since the 18th century and are used for slow-cooking dishes like roasts, stews, and casseroles.

[h/t Food & Wine]

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The Early 20th Century Society That Tried to Make English Spelling More Intuitive
George Bernard Shaw, a member of the Simplified Spelling Soesiety
George Bernard Shaw, a member of the Simplified Spelling Soesiety
Fox Photos/Getty Images

The English language is notorious for complex spelling rules—and the many words that break them. We all know i comes before e, except, of course, in certain weird words like, well, weird. We pronounce the letter i like eye if the word ends in an e—except in words like give. Unsurprisingly, even native English speakers get fed up with the inanity of the language’s complicated spelling conventions, and there have been several pushes to replace them with something a little more intuitive over the centuries, as The Public Domain Review highlights.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the London-based Simplified Speling Soesiety was one of the groups pushing for a more logical system of English spelling. Its journal, first published in 1912, refers to standard English spelling as "in sum waiz unreezonabl and retrograid.” So the group went about coming up with new ways to spell common words itself, hoping its alternate approach would catch on.

The Pioneer ov Simplified Speling contained a pronunciation guide, but many of its alternative spellings can be deciphered fairly easily. As long as you peruse carefully, that is. Reading through the publication feels like stumbling through an archaic text from hundreds of years ago, rather than something written during the 20th century.

A pronunciation guide from the 'Pioneer of Simplified Speling'
The Pioneer of Simplified Speling

Go ahead and wade into how the group, founded in 1908, explained its mission in the first edition of The Pioneer:

The aim ov the Soesiety nou iz tu plais befor the public cleer staitments ov the cais against the curent speling, tu sho hou seerius ar the consecwensez ov yuezing it, and hou much wood be gaind, if sum such sceem az that ov the Soesiety wer adopted.

Did you get all that?

The debut edition of the quirky journal, which you can read on the Internet Archive, includes not just the group’s mission statement and goals, but birthday congratulations to the Society’s founding president, aggregated updates about spelling in the news (like that in an interview, British chemist Sir William Ramsay mentioned a German child never making a spelling mistake), the announcement of the group’s annual meeting (at which members would submit new simplified spellings for discussion), and other minor spelling-related notes.

The whole thing is truly a treasure.

Fed-up readers and writers have been trying to wrangle English spelling conventions into something more manageable for essentially as long as there have been standardized spellings. Benjamin Franklin was a spelling reformer during his lifetime, as was Theodore Roosevelt. Soesiety member George Bernard Shaw went so far as to leave his estate in a trust dedicated to reforming the English alphabet when he died.

Though the spelling reformers of yore didn't find much mainstream acceptance for their ideas, there are still modern orthography obsessives who want to revamp the English spelling system to make it easier to learn. And they have a point: For English-speaking children, learning to read and write takes years longer than it does for kids learning to read in languages with easier spelling rules, like Finnish. Considering that one study of 7000 different English words found that 60 percent of them had irregularly used letters, it’s a wonder any of us English speakers have learned to read at all. If only the Simplified Speling Soesiety had gotten its way back in the early 1900s, maybe we would have an easier time of it.

[h/t The Public Domain Review]

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