second thoughts on Nkinis

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Dec 21 20:07:41 UTC 2004

I just had the bright idea of looking in the OED, where there is an
entry on "monokini" that provides this etymology:

[< French monokini (1946: see below) < mono- MONO- + -kini (in bikini
BIKINI n.), as though bikini were a formation in bi- BI-2. Cf.
   French monokini and bikini were both app. coined by Louis Reard and
patented by him in 1946: see Femmes d'Aujourd'hui (1972) 12 July.]

I'd always thought "bikini" was around first and "monokini" was a
cute invention that came later, through (as I said earlier) a
disingenuous pretend folk-etymology.  What's especially curious is
that neither the OED nor the AHD (which has an entry for bikini but
not for monokini) make any direct reference to the story I'd always
taken for granted but now wonder about, the idea that some wag (not
the same one who invented monokini, and maybe identical with M. Reard
above) came up with characterizing the two-piece swimsuit by an
allusion to the effect produced by the hydrogen bomb tested on the
Bikini atoll (by the French, if memory serves).  The AHD cite doesn't
mention anything about the bomb in the bathing suit, while the OED
just gives it as "apparently from [sense] 1" of common noun "bikini",
which is "a large explosion", and seems to be a hapax legomenon as
well as being admittedly (by the OED) "obs[cure]".  Seems like
something's missing from both dictionaries here, though whether it's
something that ought *not* to be missing I will have to leave to my
lexicographic superiors.


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