• denim •
den-êm • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun (mass)
Meaning: A heavy cotton twill fabric, typically blue, originally intended for work clothes but since the 1960s used to create more fashionable dress.
Notes: Denim comes with at least two adjectives referring to the color and texture of denim, denimy and denimlike, 'a denimy/denimlike yarn'. It also appears in a compound, denimwear.
In Play: Jeans made of denim are usually called 'blue jeans' if intended for work pants. 'Denim jeans' most often refers to fashionable clothing: "Gilda Lilly came to the party fashionably dressed in distressed denim, top and bottoms." The plural of today's word may be used but usually in reference to blue jeans: "Claude McCann, the famous lion trainer, wears denims at work."
Word History: Today's Good Word is a common word, up from a posh phrase and an elegant meaning. It is a French hand-me-down starting out as serge de Nimes "serge from Nimes". It originally referred to a kind of serge made in that city. English dropped the serge when applied to denim. Serge was the Old French version of Vulgar (Street) Latin sarica, a cloth of wool mixed with silk or linen. This word was borrowed from Greek serike "silken". Jean has a similarly interesting history. This word was taken from French jene fustian "twilled cloth from Genoa". The Old French word for "Genoa" was Jannes, from Latin Janua. By Middle French it had been reduced to Genes. (Today's Good Word was suggested by Brian Johnson in a discussion of solecism in the Agora.)
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