Fwd: cross-post: Etymology of 'Bikini Atoll'

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Dec 21 17:44:00 UTC 2004

For all you etymologists and antedaters, here's a cross-post from
Linguist List along with my response to the author.  I'm sure he will
welcome any of you jumping in; my answer was off the top of my head
and doesn't involve any actual cites on the reanalysis underlying
"monokini" or the earliest application of the eponymous bikini
bathing suit.  And I certainly have no clue on whether "Bikini" for
the atoll has any internal structure in Marshallese.  Barry--worth a
visit?  The climate's probably nice, although lead clothing might be
de rigueur.  Responses should be sent to Mr. Nikolaev as well as
posted on the list


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Date: Tue, 21 Dec 2004 12:38:21 -0500
To: Boyan Nikolaev <boyannikolaev at yahoo.com>
From: Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu>
Subject: Etymology of 'Bikini Atoll'

In reference to your query below:

I've always assumed that "monokini" did *not* result from a naive
folk etymology but rather from a
disingenuous but clever pun by some journalistic wag.  And of course
the other part of the story is the transfer involved in the use of
"bikini".  The bathing suit is so-called not because it was worn on
the atoll, but because the supposed effect of a woman (or, in those
years, a "girl") in a bikini was supposed to be akin to the effect of
an atomic bomb.  The Bikini atoll was primarily known at the time for
hosting (involuntarily, I assume) atomic bomb tests.

I don't know where the atoll got its name, i.e. what the proper name
Bikini means.  Of course many philosophers have argued that proper
names don't have meanings, but usually we can track some reason for
their application or some internal structure to the name, but I don't
know any Marshallese.

Larry Horn
<laurence.horn at yale.edu>

--- begin forwarded text
LINGUIST List: Vol-15-3550. Tue Dec 21 2004. ISSN: 1068 - 4875.

Subject: 15.3550, Qs: Etymology of 'Bikini Atoll'; Vowel Length

Date: Tue, 21 Dec 2004 12:11:41
From: Boyan Nikolaev < boyannikolaev at yahoo.com >
Subject: Etymology of 'Bikini Atoll'

I am working on an article about neologisms.

The word BIKINI, I think, was misinterpreted in 1946 as being Latin and
consisting of bi- (=two) + something unclear. So, in time it dropped its
bi- and became MONOKINI, even TANKKINI.

Could anyone tell me what the real Polynesian (Marshallese) word means and
help me explain it not considering the Latin bi-?

Boyan Nikolaev

Linguistic Field(s): Lexicography

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