Semantic drift: "khaki"

Victoria Neufeldt v.neufeldt at SASKTEL.NET
Wed Sep 19 19:18:26 UTC 2007

My immediate thought when I read the first posting on this subject
was the pronunciation of 'khaki'.  In Canada, it was (don't know the
current status of the pron) pronounced like 'car key', as Lynne
mentions, but actually pronouncing the 'r'.  This seems to be
peculiarly Canadian, and no one to my knowledge has ever explained
where this pron came from.  It seems reasonable to me that it was
based on the Brit pron, since the Canadian forces had a close
association with Britain in both the first and second world wars.
That is, that the Canadians simply assumed the 'r' sound because that
would fit the pattern of British 'r-less' prons in similar phonetic

As for the colour khaki, to me it is a tan, maybe with a greenish
cast, but I haven't seen a khaki uniform for many years.  I was
associated with the auxiliary and reserve of the Royal Canadian Air
Force in the late 50s and early 60s.  There were two uniforms: the
blue winter uniform (a greyish blue) and the khaki summer uniform.
The summer uniform was that tan colour.  I don't recall the uniforms
themselves being referred to as khakis.  And I don't remember ever
hearing a reference to fatigues -- don't think the RCAF had such.


Victoria Neufeldt
Editor, DSNA Newsletter
727 9th Street East
Saskatoon, Sask.
S7H 0M6

On 17-Sep-07, at 7:12 AM, Lynne Murphy wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Lynne Murphy <m.l.murphy at SUSSEX.AC.UK>
> Subject:      Re: Semantic drift: "khaki"
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> ---------
> I don't know about semantic drift, but this is one word that always
> throws
> me in British English, in which it tends to sound like 'car key' (much
> longer vowel than AmE on the first syllable).  When someone asked
> me to
> fetch her khaki trousers, I was looking through the pockets to
> figure out
> which ones she meant...
> Lynne
> --On Sunday, September 16, 2007 11:56 pm -0400 Amy West
> <medievalist at W-STS.COM> wrote:
>> My brother, who trained me to spit-shine, used to starch his fatigues
>> as a youngster. They were olive drab or camouflage. I think the only
>> khaki-coloring I saw in his uniforms were in his desert camies. We
>> never called his uniforms anything but "fatigues", less frequently
>> BDUs (basic duty uniform?). Again, this is late 1970s.
>> I have heard khakis refer to the style of pants also known as chinos:
>> for example, at one point at the museum job we were told to wear
>> khakis and a golf shirt as a uniform.
>> ---Amy (Again, not a lot of help) West
>>> Date:    Sat, 15 Sep 2007 14:14:22 -0700
>>> From:    Dave Wilton <dave at WILTON.NET>
>>> Subject: Re: Semantic drift: "khaki"
>>> IIRC, the US Army abandoned its tropical/summer khaki uniforms in
>>> the
>>> early 1980s, leaving only the olive-drab uniform. I would suspect
>>> that
>>> if the meaning shifted it would be after this date, at least in
>>> American
>>> usage.
>>> During the 60s and 70s there was a true US Army khaki uniform, which
>>> would have been worn in tropical Vietnam. Perhaps Heinemann is
>>> referring
>>> to the true khaki uniform and this is being misinterpreted.
> Dr M Lynne Murphy
> Senior Lecturer in Linguistics and English Language
> Arts B135
> University of Sussex
> Brighton BN1 9QN
> phone: +44-(0)1273-678844
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> The American Dialect Society -

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