September 3, 2013

Case File #013.09.03: JEANS

If you're anything like me, you favor jeans over just about any other type of clothing. But do you know how the popular denim pants got their name? Well, it all started with the Middle French phrase jean fustian, which meant “fustian of Genoa” and referred to a twilled cotton fabric that was manufactured in Italy. English speakers borrowed the phrase in the mid-fifteenth century, though they soon dropped fustian and simply used jean as a moniker not only for the Italian cloth but also for any twilled cotton fabric, of which denim is one. Thus, when United States clothiers started using denim to make legwear in the nineteenth century, Americans referred to the durable clothing as merely jean. Around 1880, however, the plural form jeans completely supplanted the singular in everyday usage, a change that many etymologists and linguists attribute to the influence of the long-standing usage of the related pants and trousers.

©2013 Michael R. Gates

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