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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter bonnets

"Bonnet" comes from an Old French word bonet, which seems to have been a kind of material, because we find references to chapels de bonets (hats made of "bonet"). This might have been a Germanic word, related to "bind" and "bundle". Alternatively, there was also a Late Latin word abonnis, designating a ribbon used in headgear.

Scottish bonnet

Originally a bonnet was a type of headgear for men as in a Scottish bonnet, because in the early Middle Ages women tended to wear veils rather than hats. But eventually the word came to apply only to women's hats and now only to babies' hats.
Looking at this picture, though, you are probably thinking, "I wouldn't call that a bonnet, I'd call it a tam", and for that you have Robbie Burns to thank. His poem "Tam o'Shanter" told of the titular farmer (non Scots would say "Tom of Shanter"),  chased by witches on the way home from a pub. This kind of hat was typical of Scottish ploughmen at the time.
Scotch bonnet peppers, the fiery chilis used in Caribbean cuisine, are called that because of their similarity to a tam o'shanter (turn this picture upside down in your mind if you're having a hard time seeing it).

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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.