Word of the Day: 1/18/16 – 1/22/16

Welcome to a new week of words. Here is Wordsmith’s introduction to the week’s theme:

“If you have ever wondered why a petticoat is called a petticoat, here’s the scoop. It is, literally, a petty coat. Or used to be. In the beginning it was an undercoat worn by men. Over time, it jumped from men to women. And then it slipped from shoulders to waist. That’s language for you. Don’t try to make sense of it.

And, whatever you do, do not look for much logic in it. Or claim that because a word meant such and such earlier, it should mean the same today.

This week we’ll discuss words related to clothing that are used metaphorically. And like petticoat, we’ll start from the top and start sliding down as the week progresses.” Enjoy!

brass hat (bras hat)

noun: a high-ranking official, especially from the military or police

From the gilt insignia worn on the cap. Also see brass ring, brass collar, brassy. Earliest documented use: 1887

Usage (from Wordsmith)
“‘I don’t understand why a brass hat from the police would want to talk to me,’ I tell him. ‘I’m just a passing academic.’”
Shashi Warrier; The Girl Who Didn’t Give Up; Tranquebar Press; 2015.

sackcloth (SAK-kloth)

noun: 1. a coarse cloth of jute, flax, etc., used for making sacks
2. a garment made of this cloth, worn to express remorse, humility, grief, etc
3. an expression of penitence, mourning, humility, etc

From the Bible in which wearing of sackcloth and sprinkling of ashes is indicated as a sign of repentance, mourning, humility, etc. Earliest documented use: before 1400

Usage (from Wordsmith)
“This disappointment, coming just at the time when the yearly interest upon the mortgage was due, had brought upon his father one of those paroxysms of helpless gloom and discouragement in which the very world itself seemed clothed in sackcloth.”
Harriet Beecher Stowe; The Writings of Harriet Beecher Stowe; Houghton, Mifflin; 1865.

“‘Don’t speak to him, Laura,’ she had said. ‘It will show how we despise him for his disgraceful conduct, and make him the sooner come creeping to our knees in sackcloth and ashes.’” George Manville Fenn; Blind Policy; John Long; 1904.

straitlaced or straight-laced (STRAYT-layst)

adjective: excessively strict, rigid, old-fashioned, or prudish

From Middle English streit (narrow), from Old French estreit, from Latin strictus, past particle of stringere (to bind, draw tight) + laqueus (noose). Earliest documented use: 1630

Usage (from Wordsmith)
“Aren’t they the rather dull, unimaginative, straitlaced characters who keep their noses constantly buried in rule books?” Your Stars; The Gold Coast Bulletin (Southport, Australia); Oct 13, 2015.

sansculotte or  sans-culotte (sanz-kyoo-LOT)

noun: 1. an extreme radical republican during the French Revolution
2. a radical or revolutionary

From French, literally, without knee breeches. In the French Revolution, this was the aristocrats’ term of contempt for the ill-clad volunteers of the Revolutionary army who rejected knee breeches as a symbol of the upper class and adopted pantaloons. As often happens with such epithets, the revolutionaries themselves adopted it as a term of pride. Earliest documented use: 1790

Usage (from Wordsmith)
“The bigger deal is that the council … was snookered into signing on with a group of environmental and legal sansculottes.” Colin McNickle; Thrice the Hubris; Tribune-Review (Pittsburgh); Nov 21, 2010

bootleg (BOOT-leg)

verb transitive, intransitive: to make, sell, or transport something illegally
noun: something illegally made, sold, or distributed
adjective: made, sold, or distributed illegally

From the practice of concealing a liquor flask in the leg of a boot. Earliest documented use: 1889

Usage (from Wordsmith)
“I swear, every single movie he had was bootleg. I think his whole room was bootleg.”
Michelle Stimpson; Trouble in My Way; Pocket Books; 2008.

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