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Jewish World Review July 28, 2004 / 10 Menachem-Av, 5764

Editors of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate
Dictionary, Tenth Edition

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Consumer Reports

'Trousers'; 'argosy' | Dear Editor:

I read recently that the word "trousers'' comes from a man named Jacob Trowser, an early 18th-century English tailor who invented them. My husband says that can't be right, that "trousers'' the word (as well as trousers the clothing) goes back way before that. Can you clear the matter up for us?

— P. N., Maryville, Tenn.

Dear P. N.:

As far as we know, there never was a tailor named Jacob Trowser. If there was, he didn't invent trousers - nor could trousers be named after him. The word's actual origins aren't as colorful as all that. "Trousers'' comes from an old Irish and Scottish Gaelic word, "triubhas,'' which was adopted in English as "trouse'' in the 16th century. "Trouse'' was altered to "trousers'' in the early 17th century, thus predating your tailor by about 100 years.

All three words referred to some type of leg covering that consisted of separate sections for each leg. The Celts (the speakers of Irish and Scottish Gaelic) were wearing trousers of a fashion in ancient times when they were a departure from the prevalent long robes worn by nearly everyone else (including their Roman conquerors). When the word "trouse'' appeared it was used in reference to this Celtic mode of dress - considered rather unusual even then, in that the legs extended in one piece from waist to ankle rather than only to the knee, a feature not without practicality (no need to wear separate knee-length stockings). In fact, these "trouse'' seem to have sometimes resembled tight breeches with stockings attached.

"Trousers'' in the 1600s were more loose-fitting, more like modern trousers, but intended to be worn over breeches rather than to replace them - except in the case of sailors, who adopted the wide-legged style but kept them neatly just above the ankle (nice for swabbing decks). The word was also used for very loose pantaloons such as those worn in Muslim countries. Modern-type trousers as everyday men's fashion began to gain popularity in the early 1800s and had become fully accepted by around 1820.

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The Trowser tale may be a myth, but we want you to know about a leg-covering that really was named for its inventor. "Bloomers'' were invented by Amelia Bloomer, a feminist whose "Bloomer costume,'' introduced in 1850, consisted of a just-over-the-knee-length belted tunic, worn over baggy Turkish-style trousers. The style was a bit too radical for the time and never caught on, but, of course, we've applied the term "bloomers'' to various types of roomy leg gear since then.

— — —

Dear Editor:

I came across a word the other day that I am not familiar with. The word is "argosy.'' The sentence was describing a person who had an "argosy of experience to relate.''

— D. W., Buffalo, N.Y.

Dear D. W.:

"Argosy'' was used in your sentence to mean "a rich supply.'' The word derives from a place name. During the later medieval and early modern periods, the port of Ragusa in Dalmatia (now Dubrovnik, Croatia) was a rich and powerful city. Ideally situated on an important trade route between Constantinople and Venice, Ragusa developed a vast sea trade, sending its merchant ships out over much of the world, even as far as India and America. "Ragusea'' was the Italian word for a Ragusan merchant vessel. In England, too, Ragusan ships were familiar, and English borrowed the word "ragusye'' from Italian "ragusea.'' In 16th-century England, "Ragusa'' was often called "Arragosa'' or "Aragouse'' or the like. This common variation on the city's name accounts for the modern form of our word "argosy.'' The word "argosy'' is sometimes used figuratively, as you've seen it, for anything richly laden like the old Ragusan ships.

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07/19/04: 'Sourdough wit'; 'headshrinkers'; 'seventh heaven'
07/08/04: 'The proof is in the pudding'; 'Pyrrhic victory'
07/01/04: Origin of 'vitamin'; 'binnacle list'
06/25/04: 'Abnegate' and 'abdicate'; 'feet of clay'; 'difugalty'
06/17/04: 'Whinge'; 'whole cloth'
06/10/04: 'The devil to pay'; 'crack', as in 'a crack marksman'; 'the dog that didn't bark'
06/03/04: 'Surrounded on three sides'; sleuths
05/18/04: 'Of the first water'; horses and horseradish; more
05/06/04: 'Historic' v. 'historical'; 'prestigious' = 'trickery'?; 'can of corn' as sports phrase
04/27/04: Derivation of 'bozo'; 'elt'; 'spill the beans'
04/21/04: Meaning of "budget'' in the word "fussbudget''; "bleeding hearts''; "skycap''
04/01/04: "Thin red line''; "doak"; "level playing field"
03/22/04: "King Canute"; "vodka"; "Cheese it. The cops!''
03/16/04: "Carrot and stick''; "hue and cry''; Where did the term "flea market'' originate?
03/09/04: Going "haywire"; "close, but no cigar"; "mahatma"
03/01/04: "Roundheel'' and "well-heeled''; "milquetoast"; "sick as a dog''
02/26/04: "Charley horse"; "`Foolproof''; "cracker-barrel''
02/17/04: "Dunce''; titles "Mr.'' and "Mrs.''; "under the weather''
02/10/04: "Turnpike''; "dead reckoning''
02/02/04: "Mutt"; "lobby" in its political sense; "procrustean bed"
01/27/04: "Decimate"; "duende"; a dessert "junket"?
01/14/04: Is "MacGuffin" related to all the "Mac" and "Mc" words we've been hearing about recently?; "afghans" and "Afghans"; "since Hector was a pup"
01/09/04: Confused about the word "hearsay"; "Burgle"; "waiting in line" or "waiting on line"?
12/31/03: The past tense of "plead''; Is "old adage'' redundant?; Where did "lounge lizard'' come from?
12/15/03: "Ostracize" and "oyster''?; Where does the "mentor'' come from?; "jeopard''
12/02/03: "Karats'' and "carats'' — meaning of and difference between; why apostrophe in "'cello''?; "hell-bent for leather''
11/18/03: "Hoosegow,''; why the little finger is called the "`pinkie''; difference between "lady'' and "dame''
11/13/03: 'Take it on the lam'; 'decorum'; 'you look like the wreck of the Hesperus'
11/03/03: Origin of "hypnosis"/"hypnotism"; "all right" or "alright"; emote
10/28/03: "Blue plate special"; how to use "hoi polloi''; "Peck's Bad Boy''
10/20/03: Who was the person the artist who first used "silhouette" as an art form?; why are they called migraine headaches?; origin of "keep one's shirt on"
10/13/03: "Grey'' in "greyhound'' has nothing to do with the color?; "at loggerheads''
09/29/03: Where does the word "karaoke" comes from?; people or persons?; "synecdoche"
09/23/03: Using "eke'' correctly; fedora; why do we call an especially flattering biography a "hagiography''?
09/10/03: Why do we call a zero score in tennis "love''?; "biannual'' or "semiannual''?; Is there any difference between "further'' and "farther''?; dilemma of using "dilemma''
09/02/03: "Out loud'' rather than "aloud''; "pushing the envelope''; "without rhyme or reason''
08/25/03: "Cheesy''; "hold a candle''
08/11/03: "Halcyon days''; Why isn't "sacrilegious'' spelled "sacreligious''?; "red light'' and "green light'' as expression — which came first, the inaction or the signals?
08/04/03: "Votive'' candles; "cosmeticizing"; "potluck''
07/28/03: Why ‘debt’ has a ‘b’ in it; "south moon under''; why "Rx'' is used for prescriptions
07/21/03: "Romance" & "Rome"?; punching & clocks; "conversate"
07/14/03: "Lukewarm''; Where did we get the word "wig'' for a fake head of hair?
07/09/03: Why doesn't "Arkansas'' rhyme with "Kansas''? ; "Catawampus"; "Jimmie Higgins work"
06/30/03: "Foozle"; author who wrote an entire novel without using a certain letter of the alphabet?; "kith and kin"
06/23/03: "On the fritz"; "knuckle down''
06/17/03: How did "lazy Susan'' come to be used for the rotating tray?; woolgathering'' as synonym for "idle daydreaming''; "in harm's way''
06/09/03: "Clotheshorse"; a god named "Ammonia"?
05/29/03: With kid gloves; "receipt'' = "recipe''?; from soup to nuts

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