second thoughts on Nkinis

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Tue Dec 21 20:43:43 UTC 2004

On Tue, 21 Dec 2004 15:07:41 -0500, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>

>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.

In his "On Language" column of July 11, 1999, Safire attributed the
"monokini" to a later designer:

In 1946, after the explosion of an atomic bomb at the Bikini Atoll in the
Marshall Islands became synonymous with a great blast, the French lingerie
manufacturer Louis Reard introduced a skimpy two-piece suit for swimming
or sunbathing that he called the bikini. Eighteen long years of dreary
skin coverage passed before the Austrian designer Rudi Gernreich
interpreted the bi in bikini as "two" and introduced the monokini -- one
bottom, no top.

It's notable that there are no cites for "monokini" before 1964.  Perhaps
Reard had the foresight to patent the "monokini" back in 1946, but it took
until 1964 for societal trends to catch up with his bold vision.

--Ben Zimmer

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