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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Friday, November 11, 2011

Dust to dust

Today being Remembrance Day, let us look at the word "khaki", so associated with military uniforms. It comes from an Urdu word meaning "dust". The colour, probably achieved by washing the fabric in muddy water, was adopted for use in uniforms by the British army in India and Afghanistan in the 1840s, the first use of camouflage. If you think of the pictures we see on TV of Afghanistan, you can see why "dust colour" makes for good camouflage. Up till then, the British wore highly conspicuous red uniforms, but with improvements in the accuracy of firearms, the wisdom of camouflage became obvious.
A peculiarly Canadian pronunciation of this word exists (and I use the word "peculiar" not in its pejorative sense): CARkee. About fifty years ago it was probably the most common Canadian pronunciation. I recently conducted a facebook poll to see how it is faring, and the results from Canadian respondents were:
CACKee: 45
CAHkee:: 19
CARkee: 15

Not wanting to be indiscreet,  I did not ask how old the "CARkee" respondents are, but judging from their facebook profile pictures, they are not in the first flush of youth. So this Canadian pronunciation is certainly not dead yet, but on its way out. It is interesting, however, to see that CAHkee (the standard British pronunciation) has a stronger showing here than in the US, where my CACKee respondents outnumbered the CAHkee ones 11 to 1.
For another Remembrance Day-themed post, see In Flanders Fields the poppies... and Soldiering on.
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1 comment:

  1. Growing up in the 50's, it was CARkee all the way.

    ReplyDelete

About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.