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.

Can You Tell an Author’s Identity By Looking at Punctuation Alone? A Study Just Found Out.

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iStock.com/RyersonClark

In 2016, neuroscientist Adam J Calhoun wondered what his favorite books would look like if he removed the words and left nothing but the punctuation. The result was a stunning—and surprisingly beautiful—visual stream of commas, question marks, semicolons, em-dashes, and periods.

Recently, Calhoun’s inquiry piqued the interest of researchers in the United Kingdom, who wondered if it was possible to identify an author from his or her punctuation alone.

For decades, linguists have been able to use the quirks of written texts to pinpoint the author. The process, called stylometric analysis or stylometry, has dozens of legal and academic applications, helping researchers authenticate anonymous works of literature and even nab criminals like the Unabomber. But it usually focuses on an author's word choices and grammar or the length of his or her sentences. Until now, punctuation has been largely ignored.

But according to a recent paper led by Alexandra N. M. Darmon of the Oxford Centre for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, an author’s use of punctuation can be extremely revealing. Darmon’s team assembled nearly 15,000 documents from 651 different authors and “de-worded” each text. “Is it possible to distinguish literary genres based on their punctuation sequences?” the researchers asked. “Do the punctuation styles of authors evolve over time?”

Apparently, yes. The researchers crafted mathematical formulas that could identify individual authors with 72 percent accuracy. Their ability to detect a specific genre—from horror to philosophy to detective fiction—was accurate more than half the time, clocking in at a 65 percent success rate.

The results, published on the preprint server SocArXiv, also revealed how punctuation style has evolved. The researchers found that “the use of quotation marks and periods has increased over time (at least in our [sample]) but that the use of commas has decreased over time. Less noticeably, the use of semicolons has also decreased over time.”

You probably don’t need to develop a powerful algorithm to figure that last bit out—you just have to crack open something by Dickens.

12 Animals Named After the Noises They Make

A bobolink, said to have been named for the call it makes
A bobolink, said to have been named for the call it makes
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If you were asked to name an onomatopoeic word, then you’d probably come up with something like boom, boing, whizz, smash, or tick-tock. They’re all perfectly good examples, of course, but onomatopoeia is actually responsible for a lot more words than you might think. For instance, etymologists believe that pebble might have been coined to imitate the sound of flowing water. Laugh might have been invented to sound like, well, a laugh. Owl, crow, and raven are all descended from Old English words (ule, crawe, hræfn) that were meant to imitate the owl’s hoot and the crow’s and raven’s squawks. And the 12 names listed here are all meant to represent the bizarre whoops, chips, peeps and wows made by the animals they describe.

1. AI

An ai in Venezuela
Fernando Flores, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

As well as being a contender for the world’s shortest animal name, ai (which should be pronounced “ah-ee") is another name for a three-toed sloth, especially the pale-throated sloth, found in the far northeast corner of South America. Although sloths are generally fairly docile, the name ai is apparently meant to resemble the high-pitched cry they can make when they’re agitated or alarmed.

2. BOBOLINK

Bobolinks can produce very long and surprisingly complex songs, but their usual go-to noise is a brief four-note call that’s commonly said to sound like someone saying “Bob-o-Lincoln.” The name Bob-o-Lincoln eventually was shortened to bobolink in the 1800s.

3. CHIPMUNK

One theory claims that the name chipmunk is an English interpretation of a native Ojibwe word, ajidamoo, meaning something like “red squirrel.” But because chipmunks were originally known as “chipping squirrels” in English, it seems more likely that the name is actually an English invention, in which case it’s probably meant to describe their short “chipping” call.

4. CHOWCHILLA

A chowchilla
Seabamirum, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The chowchilla is type of logrunner, a small thrush-like bird, that’s native to Queensland, Australia. For a bird not much larger than a robin, the chowchilla has a particularly noisy call that to early European colonists and explorers apparently sounded like “chow-chilla-chow-chow.” The chowchilla was also once known as the “auctioneer bird,” apparently because (with a bit of imagination) its song sounds like an auctioneer's incessant chattering.

5. CHUCK-WILL’S-WIDOW

A cousin of the better-known whippoorwill, the chuck-will’s-widow is another species of nightjar (a family of nocturnal birds related to swifts and martins) native to the southern United States and much of Central America. Dozens of different species of nightjar are found all over the world, and they all share incredible camouflaged plumage and strange whooping calls—so if the “whippoorwill” makes a noise that sounds like poor Will is about to be whipped, then the “chuck-will’s-widow” makes a sound like poor Will’s widow is about to be chucked.

6. GANG-GANG

A gang-gang cockatoo
iStock.com/JohnCarnemolla

The peculiar croaking noise made by the gang-gang cockatoo of southeast Australia has been likened to everything from a creaking wooden door to a cork being pulled from a wine bottle. However you might want to describe it, the onomatopoeic name gang-gang was adopted into English from a Wiradhuri name that was supposed to imitate it.

7. HOOPOE

Hoopoe bird on a branch
iStock.com/shurub

The hoopoe is a striking-looking songbird whose name is meant to imitate its strange whooping call. Their bizarre appearance has also helped make them the frequent subject of myths and folktales over time: the Ancient Egyptians worshipped them and drew pictures of them inside the pyramids; the Romans believed that they were filthy creatures because they fed on dung and frequently nested in graveyards; and at least one old European legend claims that the younger birds look after the older ones in their old age, restoring their youth by plucking out dying feathers and licking blindness from their eyes.

8. KATYDID

A katydid on a purple flower
iStock.com/blindsquirrelphoto

Katydids make their loud and often three-syllable “ka-ty-did” call by rubbing their forewings together. They hear each other, incidentally, with ears located on their front legs. There are more than 6000 species in the katydid family, found on every continent except Antarctica.

9. MACAQUE

The name macaque was borrowed into English via French in the late 17th century, but it’s thought to originally derive from an old Bantu name, kaku, for any of the numerous monkey species found in West Africa. The name kaku is in turn supposed to be imitative of a monkey call, and it’s from the plural form of kaku—namely makaku in Bantu—that the word macaque eventually evolved.

10. PEEWIT

A type of plover with characteristic green plumage and a long curled crest, the northern lapwing has a number of nicknames in English—including the peewit, the swipe, the peepsweep, the teewhit, and the teeack—every one of which is supposed to emulate its noisy alarm call. The common name lapwing, incidentally, refers to the bird’s tactic of feigning a broken wing in order to distract predators from their nest when they feel threatened.

11. PIET-MY-VROU

Piet-my-vrou is another name for the red-chested cuckoo, a species of cuckoo found across much of sub-Saharan Africa. Cuckoos are well known for their instantly recognizable call, and it’s the loud three-note descending call of the piet-my-vrou (which literally means “Pete my wife” in Afrikaans) that gives it its name.

12. WOW-WOW

A wow-wow, or agile gibbon

Gibbons are famous for their lengthy and surprisingly complex songs, and the whooping or “wowing” call of the wow-wow or wawa—a local Indonesian name for either the agile gibbon or the silvery gibbon—is no exception. Sadly both species are now listed as endangered, due to their localized distribution and on-going habitat destruction.

This story first ran in 2014.

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