• habiliment •
hæ-bil-ê-mênt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: Outfit, attire, apparel, dress, especially military attire and accoutrements.
Notes: This word is usually used in the plural (habiliments) when it is used at all. You will probably encounter this word mostly in reading 19th and 20th century novels. The adjective, meaning "attired, equipped" is habilimented. There are no other derivational relatives.
In Play: Here is a citation from a 20th century novel: "When Calpurnia stayed overnight with us she slept on a folding cot in the kitchen; that morning it was covered with our Sunday habiliments" (Harper Lee To Kill a Mockingbird 1960). We need to return this word to common usage for special attire: "The mummers pranced down the street in the parade wearing their usual astonishing habiliments."
Word History: Today's Good word comes to us from Old French habillement, the noun for habiller "to render fit, fit out", a verb made from habile "fit, suitable". This last word, which was sometimes spelled without the initial H, came to English to be changed forthwith to able. Clothing was seen as something that fit a person, as implied by the English outfit. Old French inherited the word from Latin habitus "deportment, the appearance of the body", the past participle of habere "to have". Habit originally referred to something a person had on. Once it came to be used in reference to the dress that nuns and monks wore all the time, i.e. habitually, it took on the sense of "custom, wont". (Today's Good Word was recommended by a connoisseur of words par excellence, George Kovac, to whom we owe a debt of gratitude.)
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