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The History of Denim and Other Cloth from Around the World


Corduroy
The word corduroy has been used in the English language since 1780. While some origin stories like to suggest that the word derives from ‘corde du roy’ meaning ‘king’s cord’, the actual etymology of the word is much less interesting. Corduroy is most likely a combination of the words cord (twisted string or rope) and duroy (a coarse woollen fabric).

Denim
While jeans didn’t become popular until the nineteenth century, people have been wearing denim since the seventeenth century or earlier. The word comes from the French ‘serge de Nîmes’ – serge cloth from the town of Nîmes. The word was corrupted in English to ‘serge de Nim’ and then to just denim.

Gingham
Gingham is a cotton cloth which has been woven into stripes or checks. The word entered the English language in the early seventeenth century via Dutch. It derives from the Malay word ‘ginggang’ meaning ‘striped’.

Lace
The word lace has been used as a verb to mean ‘fasten’ since around 1200. It comes from the Old French ‘lacier’ meaning ‘entwine, interlace, fasten with laces, lace on; entrap, ensnare’ which in turn comes from ‘laz’ meaning ‘net, noose, string, cord’. These Old French terms derive from the Latin ‘laqueus.’ It wasn’t until the sixteenth century that the word lace was used to describe the intricately woven fabric we know today.

Muslin
Muslin
is a type of delicate cotton cloth which was once much more expensive and luxurious than it is today – indeed, in the thirteenth-century French, ‘mosulin’ meant ‘cloth of silk and gold’. The word entered English around 1600 from the French ‘mousseline’, which in turn came from the Italian ‘mussolina’. The word derives from ‘Mosul’ – a city in Mesopotamia where muslin comes from.

Satin
Satin
dates back to the fourteenth century and probably derives from the Arabic ‘zaytuni’ meaning from ‘Zaitun’. Zaitun, a Chinese city, was described by Marco Polo a great sea port of the thirteenth century. The word probably passed into English via Middle French.

Velvet
Velvet
entered English in the fourteenth century and comes from the Vulgar Latin ‘villutittus’ meaning ‘shaggy cloth’. ‘Villutittus’ derives from the Latin ‘villus’ which means ‘shaggy hair, nap of cloth, tuft of hair’ and comes from the PIE ‘wel’ meaning ‘to tear, pull’.

If you’ve found this post interesting, why not check out our other articles on word origins?

Have a great week!

Sources: The Online Etymology Dictionary.


19 Sep 2016
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