Long Thread Podcast: Jess Zafarris, Author & Etymologist

Season 9, Episode 8: As fiber crafters, we put textiles at the center of our lives. Is it any surprise to find fiber, cloth, and yarn at the center of our language?

Anne Merrow Jun 15, 2024 - 3 min read

Long Thread Podcast: Jess Zafarris, Author & Etymologist Primary Image

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If you knit, spin, sew, weave, or follow any crafty pursuit, you will not be surprised that many of our most common metaphors come from textiles. They are interwoven in our vocabulary, and whether you like to spin a yarn from words or fibers, you will recognize many of them.

But then there are the words whose textile roots are less obvious: Rocket. Bombastic. And we’ve forgotten the regional roots of some kinds of fabric, where the skill and creativity refined in a particular place produced an exceptional kind of cloth. You might know what fiber comes from Kashmir, but can you identify the sources of muslin, gauze, damask, or calico? You might know that the pejorative term “shoddy” comes from the fabric trade, but can you identify the roots of tawdry, sleazy, and chintzy?

In this episode, Jess Zafarris and I trace the threads of textiles in our vocabulary. Jess is co-host of Words Unravelled (one of my favorite podcasts) and author of several books, most recently Words from Hell: Unearthing the Darkest Secrets of English Etymology.

Useless Etymology website
Words Unravelled with RobWords and Jess Zafarris podcast audio and video
Useless Etymology Instagram @uselessetymology
Rigmaroles & Ragamuffins: Unpicking Words We Derive from Textiles and Ruffians and Loose Women: More Words Derived from Textiles by Elinor Kapp are available from the author.
Dhaka muslin
“Drizzling: A Regency Rainy-Day Hobby”
Shoddy From Devil’s Dust to the Renaissance of Rags by Hannah Rose Shell

This episode is brought to you by:

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