Semantic drift: "khaki"

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Sun Sep 16 05:04:05 UTC 2007

When I was a student at the local colored Catholic grade school in
Marshall, TX, the year-around school uniform for boys was khaki
trousers and shirt with a khaki tie. The color was the same as that of
those parts of the so-called "class-A" summer uniform worn in the Army
during my years in the War. Unfortunately, as the OED definition
suggests, the color is hard to describe, being a color unto itself
almost like a primary color. What color is "red"? "Khaki" strikes me
as being a kind of greyish-bluish-brownish tan ranging from more
greyish-bluish-brownish tan to less greyish-brownish-bluish tan. Or is
it simply a subset of the various shades of tan, easily recognized,
once that you've been shown an example of it?

IAC, we had three uniforms issued to us. A green cotton one, called
"fatigues," was the everyday uniform, giving birth to jokes of the
type: "You should have *told* me! Had I known that *you* were going to
wear green, today, ..." For summer dress-up, there was a khaki
uniform, known as "khakis." In the winter, this uniform was replaced
by a green uniform known as "greens." This uniform was worn with a tan
shirt, whose color was recognized as distinct from the khaki color of
the shirt worn with khakis.


On 9/15/07, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM>
> Subject:      Semantic drift: "khaki"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Just what color do people understand nowadays by "khaki"?  All my life I've subscribed to the def. of the OED: "dust-coloured; dull brownish yellow, drab," a kind of light to medium beige.
>   Recently, though, I've noticed writers using "khaki" to designate the much darker brown,   formerly used for U.S. Army uniforms (as in World War I) and usually designated "olive drab."  Now I find Vietnam veteran Larry Heinemann (in _Black Virgin Mountain_) referring to the dark "olive-green" Army "service uniform" of the '60s as "khakis." Surely Heinemann knows better - or my memory is slipping.
>   But anyway, without checking your dictionaries, what color is "khaki"?
>   JL
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