Word Of The Week: December 19th, 2009.

Every once in a while in the store I’ll still see a pair of button-fly jeans. It’s a fad I never did understand. I’ll always prefer the zipper, Gideon Sundback’s great invention which was unleashed–er, I mean, which helped zip up the world in 1925. The Oxford English Dictionary is fuzzy on the etymology of the word zipper, although I’d guess the word must be onomatopoeic. I don’t know if it’s onomatopoeic in every language, though. We all hear the same sound, right? So, in theory, the word zipper should be similar in most languages, and yet in Dutch a zipper is a ritssluiting, in French it’s a tirette, and in German it’s a Reißverschluss. The Greek word for zipper seems somewhat more onomatopoeic, being φερμουάρ–but then again onomatopoeic is a Greek derivative. Spanish for zipper is cremallera, which is lovely-sounding, while in Italian a zipper is chiusura lampo–literally a “closing lightning bolt”. Personally I don’t want a lightning bolt anywhere near my zipper, thank you very much. And finally the Portuguese word for zipper is…zipper. Go figure.

Update: Check out this short but fascinating History of The Zipper. I’ve often heard Sundback mentioned as the inventor the zipper, but he benefitted from the work of earlier inventors Elias Howe (inventor of the sewing machine) and Whitcomb L. Judson.