Where’d Your Winter Wardrobe Come From?

Winter in Dunrobin
Yesterday, about a foot of snow fell here in Ottawa. It’s very pretty — and my husky loves it. But it’s also very cold, especially when you have cracks in the soles of your winter boots. Don’t worry, I rushed out and got some new boots, which are toasty warm and perfect for being dragged through the snow by a highly enthusiastic dog.

Anyway, as I was putting on all my winter layers this morning, I got to wondering about the origins of the names of some of those items. So I did a little digging (if you’ll pardon the pun), and now I’d like to share what I learned with all of you.

This is the first thing I put on after my boots. Apparently, our ancestors have been doing the same since 1844, when scarf was first recorded as a cold-weather item. However, scarf first turned up in English in the 1550s, when it was used to refer to a band or strip of cloth worn across the body or over the shoulders. It likely came from the Old North French word, escarpe, meaning a sash or a sling, which came from the Old French escherpe, referring to a pilgrim’s purse worn around the neck. From there, it might have come from a Germanic source, like the Frankish word skirpja or the Old Norse skreppa, both meaning a small bag or satchel. But it could also have come from the Medieval Latin scirpus, which refers to a rush or bulrush.

After the scarf comes the winter coat. There are a few different words for winter coats that have interesting origins.

Parka was first recorded in English in 1780. It comes directly from Aleut, which, in turn, came from the Russian word of the same spelling. And the Russian comes from the Samoyedic language, and refers to a pelt or a jacket made from pelt.

Anorak showed up in the English language in 1924. It comes from the Kalaallisut word anoraq, and refers to a waterproof, hooded, pullover style of jacket. As a side note, Kalaallisut is a dialect of Greenlandic, which is part of the Eskimo-Aleut language family. Anorak has been used to refer to Western imitations of the real thing since the 1930s.

An amauti (or amautik) is a special type of parka, worn by Inuit women from the eastern Canadian arctic. It came to English within the last century from the Tununiq dialect of Inuktitut, which also belongs to the Eskimo-Aleut language family. What makes the amauti special is its built-in baby pouch, nestled just below the hood. This allows mothers to carry their babies safely and comfortably out in the elements.

Next in the winter line-up are mittens, designed to keep your fingers warm and make you look like an idiot every time you have to pick up something small. Mittens showed up in English in the late 1300s, coming to us from the Old French mitaine, meaning a half-glove. From there, the word came from the Medieval Latin mitta, which may have come from the Old High German mittamo, meaning middle, or from the Vulgar Latin midietana, meaning divided in the middle.

Finally, I put on my winter hat, which is also called a toque (or tuque) here in Canada. Toque turned up in English around the year 1500, coming from the Middle French word of the same spelling. But, interestingly, from there it came from the Spanish word, toca, which refers to a woman’s headdress, and which might have come from the Arabic taqa, which came from the Old Persian taq, both meaning veil or shawl. Toques might be cold-weather items now, but they definitely didn’t start out that way.

So, the next time you’re getting ready to go frolic in the snow, just remember it was a global effort that helped get you dressed.

Image credit: Suzanne Purkis 


11 thoughts on “Where’d Your Winter Wardrobe Come From?

  1. Many thanks to you Suzanne for this interesting post. Every time I put on my scarf, parka, mittens, and boots I’ll remember your post,I’m sorry Suzanne i do not have them in the right order ):

    1. Ooh, that’s a good one! The balaclava (woolen head covering) is actually named after a village near Sebastopol, Russia – and was the site of the Battle of Balaclava on October 25, 1854, during the Crimean War. Some claim the name comes from Turkish originally, but it is more likely that it comes from the Greek name, Palakion.

  2. I love etymologies and word histories as they travel through different languages! Thank you for doing all this research and sharing it.

    1. Yep, and there’s more snow to come! I’m glad you enjoyed learning about those words. And I can guarantee my dog is having a blast dragging me through the snow. Me, not so much. 🙂

  3. I’m waiting for someone to invent a mitten where you can pick up those small things…I would pay a mint for that! What is the point of having mittens you need to take off to do things? 🙂 My family used to have a Norwegian elkhound as a dog, and she loved going out when it was minus 30 and relaxing on a patch of ice. The rest of us, not so much…

    Fun post as always, Suzanne!

    1. Seriously. That would be the best invention ever. Maybe you should patent it?

      My husky would love to hang out with an Norwegian elkhound! These days, if we let him out in the backyard he refuses to come inside. He’ll lie out there in the snow for hours – until he’s covered in snow and looks like one of those ads telling people not to leave their dogs outside in the winter!

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