Monthly Archives: October 2012


Ruffled apron.

Apron is found in English writing in 1307 as naperonns, a reflection of its French origins as naperon, a diminutive form of nape “table cloth”, which comes from the Latin mappa “table-napkin”.

First off, this means that apron and napkin come from the same place.

Napkin-folding instructions from Mrs Beeton’s Family Cookery Book (1923)

English takes naperon from French as a word for “the article of dress” used to “protect clothes from dirt or injury” and then, a few decades later, takes nape “cloth for table” from French (again) and adds the Dutch suffix –kin “small” to get napkin (or, what were apparently competing synonyms at the time, napet or napella).

Second, it means that somewhere along the way, English speakers made a shift from a napron to an apron.

“a napron” or “an apron” – it’s a spontaneous reanalysis of the article-word boundary. Or it just keeps your clothes clean.

You can use apron as an adjective.  As in apron-child (a child old enough to stand if holding on to mom’s apron), apron-string (what no one wants to let go of, c.f. apron-child) and apron-husband (not quite what you think, instead apron-husband refers to a man that “meddles with his wife’s business”).

This is what you get when you google “apron man”. Well, this and a lot of pornographic kitchen-wear.

A more recent term for ‘apron’ is pinafore, which comes from the combination of to pin the verb and afore “in front”.   This term surfaces in writing in the late 1700s, along with its siblings, pinbefore and pincloth.  All of these refer to the same kind of apron – one which ties around the waist, but has an upper square that is pinned onto the shirt to hold it up.  Pinafores were associated especially with young children, both boys and girls, worn to protect their clothes.

A pinafore.

Alas, “pinbefore” and “pincloth” are now considered obsolete –  as are pins.  Pinafores today (?!) are, like the one pictured above, pin-less (probably wise when the covering is used in combination with small children).

From the 1850s on, we also see the use of pinny as a shortened form of pinafore.

My question: if a pinafore looks this nice, what do you wear over it to keep it clean?

When you have a traditional apron that ties at the waist, the top half of an apron is referred to as the bib, which can be pinned, looped, or tied behind the neck. The word bib probably comes from the verb bib “to drink” (a lot), which we see in words like imbibe. These days, we are most likely to see a bib on a baby.  Or a lobster-crawfish-ribs eater.

A half-apron at work (in a 1920s cookbook).

Meet the 1950s hostess apron. A wee bit less functional and a wee bit transparent.

You can, of course, have a half-apron (also referred to in the 1950s as a hostess apron or cocktail apron) whose function is primarily to indicate that it was in fact the wearer that prepared the food (probably while wearing a full apron made of non-transparent material).

The smock. (The 1970s were a hard, hard time. But we kept clean.)

The oldest word in English for ‘apron’ is actually smock, which appears to be related to Old English smuggan “to creep” (likened to Old Norse smjuga “to creep into, put on, a garment”).  A smock can be more like a dress than a covering, as it can be full-length with sleeves (which apparently must be put on slowly).

The word smock first appears in English writing around 1000, but at that time referred to a “woman’s undergarment; a shift or chemise”.   Smock goes over clothes in the 1800s as part of the phrase smock-frock “loose-fitting garment of coarse linen or the like”, which was a garment worn by farm-laborers “over or instead of a coat”. The smock-frock keeps its shape, loses the –frock, and gains wider popularity in the 1930s, as a covering for artists and gardeners.

Yeah, birds don’t put mine on either.

So, cover up in the kitchen, keep your clothes olive-oil-splatter free.  Wear an apron.  And use cloth napkins while you’re at it.


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Bungalow comes to us from Hindustani bangala, a word that began as an adjective “belonging to Bengal” that described and later became the name for a style of home found in rural India and used as waystations by British travellers in India during the mid 19th c.  These bungalows were light structures, informal and temporary, built low to the ground with sizable porches covered by low-handing eaves.

A bungalow in India

The first couple of times we see it in English writing, bungalow appears in accounts of living in or traveling to India: from an 1809 journal, we have, “We came to a small bungalo, or garden-house” and in a descriptive passage from 1806, “The bungalows in India…are, for the most part…built of unbaked bricks and covered with thatch, having in the centre a hall…the whole being encompassed by an open verandah”.

Almost 100 years later, bungalow appears in an issue of The Architect and Contract Reporter, which states simply, “The buildings have been designed in a bungalow type”. In America, the term bungalow is taken up by residential architects in California to describe small, one-story homes that have an informal feel, characterized by a multipurpose floor plan with an open living/dining room area.

Typical bungalow floorplan

The bungalow craze lasted from 1905 to 1930 and spread west to east as the appeal of the plan caught on – the bungalow had a “first home” aura which made it perfect for newlyweds and younger homebuyers.  The bungalow was not necessarily place to settle down for good; it was (still) temporary, a step in a direction (much like the “starter home” of today).

Many of the Sears & Roebuck homes sold during the first decades of the 20th century were of the bungalow style, like “The Argyle”.

The important aspect of the bungalow, the one that signals some serious cultural change, is the blending of public and private spaces – no longer was there a separate room (like a parlor) for entertaining –  everyone was welcome in the family room – and parts of the house that had once been cordoned off (like the kitchen) were now in view of visitors and dinner guests.

American two-story bungalow – which looks just like the house my grandparents used to live in.

A google search for “craftsman bungalow” results in a flood of images of houses that all look like the house my grandparents lived in when I was little.  But with tiny variations.  It’s the same house, presented in a myriad of different building materials (brick, shingle siding, clapboard siding) and colors (gray, brown, red, orange), all with the same wide-stepped front porch and low eaves, the same windows and brick chimney.

The rooms were set so that we could run our multi-leafed Thanksgiving dinner table from the dining area to the living room – the only way to make space for all of us.  A benefit of multipurpose-ness.

The house I live in now has no architectural dividers between the dining area, living area and kitchen. The bungalow laid the foundation for this kind of open-concept plan, laying the foundation for the living spaces that were to come.

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