Monday, April 4, 2011

You Say Pajama...

Just before going to bed the other night, my wife and I got into one of our favorite past-times...arguing about words of course. Usually, I use a word--something that might come up on the GRE--and my wife challenges it as though our life was a never-ending game of scrabble or something. Then we argue about the connotations in which it can be used and finally pull out Winston (my red, Random House Webster's dictionary) to settle the matter.

Well, on the night in question, instead of me commenting on her pulchritude and proceeding to argue its usage, we decided to guess the origin of the word Pajama. I know what you're all thinking; you want to invite us both to your next party. It was her idea this time. We were just lying there in the dark and she said, in a very serious tone of voice, "What language do you suppose the word 'pajama' came from?" I love this woman. At first, I guessed it was from some Arabic language, and said so very confidently like I had just looked it up this afternoon. I paused for effect... "You just made that up!" she exclaimed, calling my bluff. "You're right" I said, "but I bet I'm close."

I suddenly remembered that the word "Panjandrum" was Hindi--which is completely incorrect, by the way--and felt sure that pajama must be as well. Winston was called forth, and sure enough, he claims that "pajama" entered English in the late 18th century via Hindi and Persian. The pajama, which literally means "leg garment," (pay=leg jama=garment) was very popular in the Middle East and India when colonial English types noticed how much more comfortable Sikhs and Muslims were in their loose-fitting trousers. And of course they were embarrassed about being copy cats, so they took to only wearing them at night, when no one else was looking. Ha! The cat is out of the bag now, you empire-bent colonialists. Now, everyone knows.

Still, it's a shame that we in the West can't seem to make our fashion justify the wearing of comfortable clothing for more than a few years at a time, except for our nightclothes. Yeah, I'm talking about skinny-jeans, which I do not recommend sleeping in, or wearing on any occasion other than to 1980s-punk-rock parties.

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