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haberdasher

Printable Version Pronunciation: -bêr-dæsh-êr-ri Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A dealer in men's clothing. 2. A dealer in a variety of sundry items for sewing, such as buttons, zippers, and ribbons.

Notes: Haberdashers work in haberdasheries. Haberdashery can also refer to the goods sold in a haberdashery, haberdash now being archaic in that sense.

In Play: "Ty Kuhn just opened a haberdashery on Market Street; they say he has the latest styles in men's clothing." There was a period when schoolmarms and -masters were called "haberdashers of nouns and pronouns" in England. So the word may be used metaphorically in the sense of "sundry items" in that country: "Sal McGundy's mind is a haberdashery of opinions, thoughts, and ideas, none of them worth two pence."

Word History: Today's Good Word comes from an Anglo-Norman word habertas, which must have referred to sundries. That would allow for Anglo-Norman habertassier to mean "a dealer in sundries", which would normally reduce to haberdasher in English. Where the word itself comes from is unknown, though it is probably of Germanic origin. The meaning shift from "a variety of small items" to "men's clothing" may have been made possible by the intermediate meaning of "hats and caps". This sense was prevalent at the beginning of the 18th century. This word is one of the great etymological mysteries of the English language. (We now thank Monika Freund of Wuppertal, a haberdasher of Good Words such as the one she suggested for today.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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