• cravat •
Pronunciation: krê-væt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A scarf or other loose band of fine fabric worn inside men's collars, a forebear of the necktie. 2. Any necktie.
Notes: Cravats are still in fashion today, three and a half centuries after their introduction in France in the mid-17th century. It comes with two adjectives: cravatless and cravatted "wearing a cravat". It may be used as a verb meaning "to provide with a cravat".
In Play: This word may only be used literally: "Only Lindsay Woolsey would be seen in public wearing a trilby, a cravat and an old raincoat." There are no figurative uses: "Oscar Wilde was rarely seen without full make-up, a big black wig wearing Edwardian clothes, boots, silk cravat, and carrying a silver-tipped cane."
Word History: Today's Good Word is simply French cravate minus the final E. It originally referred to the linen scarf worn by Croatian mercenaries in the service of France in the 30 Years War. This accessory was adopted by French fashion in the 17th century and spread quickly to other countries. The French word is a commonization of Cravate, the French correlate to English Croat "Croatian". Cravate seems to come from Krabate, a German dialectal version of Serbo-Croatian Hrvat. The origin of Hrvat has been the subject of many theories. For 19 of them, click here. (I wish we had a striking cravat that we could send to Jeremy Busch as a token of our gratitude for his suggestion of today's Good Word. Alas, we have none.)