Monday, July 15, 2013

Blazer - arguing with the dictionary

I hesitate to argue with the good old Oxford Dictionary, or with any other online dictionary, but I'm going to argue - just this once.

The article/review setting me off on this tack is titled Pattern Recognition....The swoosh, the golden arches, the chevron, and a million other logos your hindbrain can recognize before you Seth Stevenson, published at Slate this weekend. Mr Stevenson refers to a book: In Marks of Excellence: The History and Taxonomy of Trademarks by Per Mollerup who surmises that the first trademarks “probably marked ownership - a simple sign to show that a weapon belonged to a particular man.”

Per Mollerup, in his book further says :
Today’s logos find their forebears in coats of arms and royal monograms. Marks of Excellence wonderfully contextualizes these building blocks of graphic identity. You’ll learn the rules of heraldry, and will soon be sorting invected lines of partition from embattled or dovetailed ones. You’ll spot the difference between chevrons, gyrons, inescutcheons, and double quatrefoils.
It's an interesting study: logos, trademarks, their derivation, history and use. From that article I re-visited an old post of my own from 2009:
Astrology and Heraldry

I casually searched the word heraldry and the term blazon. Also here.

Getting there......

No huge leap from blazon to blazer is there?

What is a blazer? It's a jacket which, in its original form, carried some kind of badge denoting membership of a club, group, military regiment, school etc. Sometimes - often - the badge was in heraldic form, sometimes shield-like in shape it carried more of a logo. Our school badge was an example, and was carried in miniature on all pieces of our dark green uniform, but in larger format on our green/white/black striped blazers (see right).

Over the decades the term blazer has been hijacked by the fashion industry and has come to describe a particular type of formal jacket, for males or females, nowadays no badge is needed for a jacket to be described as a blazer.

I propose that the term blazer was a derivation of the term "blazon".

However, dictionaries tell us:

Origin of blazer:

Late 19th century: from blaze + -er. The original general sense was 'a thing that blazes or shines' (mid 17th century), giving rise to the term for a brightly coloured sporting jacket.


Blazer (n.) "bright-colored jacket," 1880, British university slang, from blaze (n.), in reference to the red flannel jackets worn by the Lady Margaret, St. John College, Cambridge, boating club. Earlier it had been used in American English in the sense "something which attracts attention" (1845).

I beg, humbly (or not) to differ.


mike said...

Well, here's some contrary info. According to my hard copy of Bloomsbury Database of World English, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, London, 2001:

blaze derives from Old English blaese, torch, bright flame, Germanic

blazer, jacket with bright colors and-or emblem is Mid-17th century

blazon, coat of arms, derives from blason, French 13th century for shield

Note that the word blaze, as in markings on an animal or path, is derived from Old Norse for blesi, or from Middle High German for blasse, or Middle Low German for bles...both German words mean "white mark"

So, Twilight, you are both correct. How about that?! I have found online dictionaries to be dumbed-down and incomplete...even the Oxford. Nothing like having the antiquated hard copy, but many are no longer available, due to the digital age and the high cost of publishing...and probably the lack of consumer interest in purchasing a hard copy.

FYI - the younger generation uses the term "to blaze" meaning to light-up a marijuana joint or indulge in pot smoking. So, be careful if someone asks you to blaze!

mike (again) said...

P.S. - one is a "blazer", if they smoke the hootch.

mike (again) said...

I visited Crete a number of years ago. I walked about five miles from one village to the next and became acquainted with a lady between the villages that produced hand-made bags that strap over the shoulders...the original back-packs. She spun her yarn, hand-dyed the yarn, then wove the yarns. The bag was a vibrant, abstract, mix of colors.

On my return through Athens, I was accused of stealing the bag!!! Why? Because the colors and the placement of the colors of the bag were indicative of a particular family, each having their own peculiar abstract pattern of colors.

Twilight said...

mike ~ Thanks for the further information. I suspected that online dictionaries might not carry all there is to know.

Of course, we still cannot know for sure what prompted/inspired the persons who first used the term blazer for the bright jacket carrying an emblem on the pocket. As this first happened reportedly in the 17th century, I'd guess they were more into heraldry terms back then, so the term blazon would have been sufficiently well-known among the circles of folk who would have decided to have sets of jackets tailored for club members, for blazon to have been the first inspiration for the jackets' name.

Then as heraldry and its terms became more obscure, later people assumed it was the colour of the jackets which inspired their name, because of that other, ar more common word, blaze.


Aha! So yet another modern use for the term - hadn't heard that one before. :-)


That's an interesting story, mike!
It shows a correlation with heraldry in more simple format.
I trust you were not arrested and thrown into an Athens jail! :-(

mike (again) said...

Re: Athens...I had been surrounded by a small group of men (plain citizens) that questioned me. I must have appeared sincere, as I was only tormented for a few minutes.

I found this's the Blazer Coat of Arms (from Yorkshire!) and history with the 17th century timeline:

Maybe the Blazer family favored brightly colored jackets and decided to put their crest on the pocket to keep them from being stolen by the envious neighbors.

"Blazer" jacket, as a definable noun, has an entangled past, which results in a hybrid meaning regarding a brightly colored jacket without matching pants, with or without a shield on the jacket's pocket.

Wiki presents the blazer jacket's history as the Lady Margaret Boat Club (1825) and the HMS Blazer vs HMS Harlequin (1845).

There were several references about the pea coat for maritime use as the original blazer jacket.

Twilight said...

mike ~~ Hmmm - I've never come across the surname Blazer, nearest I can recall was Bays (or Baise), a girl at school. Maybe they all emigrated!

I've been spending time on over the weekend, first time in 3 or 4 years I've ventured in again. So these kinds of thoughts are at the front of my mind. I wasn't in search of blazers though, but trying to clear up question marks in my family tree!

Talk about giving oneself a headache, battering on brick walls and pursuing prey through tangled undergrowth has nothing on trying to disentangle my humble family's history.

Anyway back to the subject in hand....blazers. We could never be certain of the true origin of the term, and maybe there really are separate, equally valid, strands leading to the same garment.

The mists of centuries have their way with all things, especially words.

mike (again) said...

Here's a bit more, Twilight:

"A surcoat, or surcote, was an outer garment commonly worn in the Middle Ages by both men and women. It can either refer to a coat worn over other garments or the outer garment of a person. The name derives from French meaning "over the cotta", a long, wide coat reaching down to the feet without sleeves.

From about the 12th century, knights wore long and flowing surcoats over their armour, which were frequently emblazoned with the arms of the wearer. They usually extended to about mid-calf, had slits in the bottom front and back, and were sleeved or sleeveless. Historians believe that the practice of wearing white surcoats was picked up from the Turks during the crusades, and their purpose was to reflect heat, thus protecting mail from direct sun, which heated the mail and the soldier inside. The surcoat also serves in areas of poor weather to keep the rain and muck of battle away from the easily corroded maille-links. The surcoat displayed the device of a knight (origin of "coat of arms") which identified him, which, with the rise of the great helm in the late 12th century and early 13th century, became more and more crucial. Some historians even cite this as a reason behind the spread of heraldry across medieval Europe. During the 13th century, knights also began to add plates of armour to the surcoat, the armored surcoat later became the medieval coat of plates. In the early fourteenth century, the front of the knight's surcoat was shortened, so it was long at the back, but knee-length at the front. This allowed for easier movement and also eliminated the danger of the knight getting his spurs caught up in the long surcoat. By the mid-fourteenth century the long surcoat was replaced with the "Jupon" (or "Gipon"), a much shorter garment, which was often padded for extra protection."

From Wiki:

Twilight said...

mike ~ Thanks - there are some good tidbits there!

I like the fact that there were practical reasons for the surcoat as well as showing to all and sundry for whom they were fighting (by the emblazoned signage on the coat), the knights needed to be protected from pressure-cooking in the sun and armour corrosion in the rain.
:-) Those are things I hadn't considered before.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree that most online free dictionaries are incomplete and rubbishy.
One of my favourite 'browsing' dictionaries is Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, scanned copies available free online, and in which you may be interested to search the term 'blazon'.

Twilight said...

Sabina ~~ Thanks for the reminder! I used to possess a "Brewer's", can't remember what happened to it - probably gave it away when I moved to the USA - I couldn't bring all my stuff, sadly!

I shall watch for a used volume to buy - and investigate the pdf that is available online. :-)