Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Thursday, September 20, 2012



This week is an etymological tip of the hat to headwear.

Hat comes from the Old English word haet, head covering, which came from a Proto Indo-European word meaning cover or protect.

Cap is also came from Old English. It started as caeppe, a hood covering or cape. This word came from the Latin word caput, head.  In English it only referred to women’s head coverings until the late 1300s, & is, not surprisingly, related to the French word chapeau.

Though most modern Americans associate the fedora with noirish characters of the 1930s, the term initially referred to a hat worn by a woman – Sarah Bernhardt -- who in 1882 at the time of her fascination with soft-brimmed, center-creased hats, was playing the part of a Russian princess in a Victorien Sardou play, Fedora. Bernhardt’s fashion choice inspired a rash of fedora-wearing women’s rights activists. Some years later, those 1930s nourish hoods liked the look, too.

Though the derby was being manufactured in the US as early as 1850, it didn’t earn its name until twenty years later, when that particular style caught on across the pond at the Derby horse races.

Sombrero entered English in 1770 from Spanish sombrero, a broad-brimmed hat. It heralds from sombra, or shade, & initially described a parasol or umbrella.

Beret entered English in 1827, from the French word béret. Before landing in the French language, beret travelled through Bearn, Old Gascon, Late Latin, & Middle Latin. Its Middle Latin form is the diminutive form of birrus, a large, hooded cape. It appears the word may have entered Middle Latin from Gaulish.

Etymologists don’t agree on the beginnings of the bowler. Some claim it was named after J. Bowler, a popular London hat maker of the 1800s. Others trace it back to the Old English grandmother of bowl, heafodbolla, meaning brainpan or skull. Those Old English folks really had a way with syllables, didn’t they?

Dear followers, did any hat word histories surprise you or cause a wrinkled brow? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources,, The OED,


  1. So the beret has always been French? I remember him well: Old Gascon,in his beret, as he bicycled through the Gaulish streets... And a sombrero is a parasol for your head. Makes sense. More than that old grandmother's skull-bowl. :-) Sounds a bit ghoulish.

  2. Hi Anne,
    I'm with you on the skull-bowl. Sounds as though these folks had a more intimate knowledge of such things than I care to have.