Beanie is the Word — The Linguistic Roots of Beanie, Hat, Toque and Cap
Benjamin Antoni Andersen
Red Hat Culture
| February 7, 2022
When we first began to shape the language around Red Hat Factory, there was one word in particular that became a struggle — and it’s right there in our name.
A car is a car, a shovel a shovel, but a beanie…
It can be a beanie, a toque, a hat, a regular cap, a watch cap, a knit cap (all kinds of cap really). Some have told me “beanie” sounds cheap, but then “hat,” to me, just sounds like a brimmed hat a la Indiana Jones.
So what were we to choose? I went back and forth many times, changing wording on our website, until I finally did the rational thing. I checked what shows up in search results for the different words, and went with the one that fits best our product. “Beanie” is now our main word, but with the occasional “hat” or “knit cap” to spice things up.
I love to look into the meaning of words every now and then. I am writing a fantasy novel on the side, and the quest to find the most precise word for the situation, is something I often indulge in.
So where does the word “beanie” come from?
Short answer: Nobody knows. But that doesn’t stop language professors from speculating. And speculating is fun.
Oxford English Dictionary says it probably comes from bean as a slang term for head. Pulling out the good old Occam’s razor, we should maybe surmise that this is where our search ends. (Though in truth, it ended at “Nobody knows.”)
“The fact that the slang term bean was used for head as early as 1905, is fascinating to me.”
There are other theories, but let’s ignore them. The fact that the slang term bean was used for head as early as 1905, is fascinating to me. I might have read too much Lord of the Rings, but I always had the sense that in the early 1900’s nobody used slang, and everybody were well versed in proper use of grammar and walked around in suits, checking their little pocket watches at every street crossing, while the camera dramatically pans in at their shocked faces when they realise they’re late.
Well, we all have different kind of assumptions about history, and it’s healthy to poke holes in them every now and then.
The terms was originally a baseball term. A bean-ball was a pitch thrown at the batter’s head. From there we see it used more generally as in Bill the Conqueror, a novel (that I have absolutely not read or ever heard about) from 1924: “Have I got to clump you one on the side of the bean?”
So it makes total sense that a beanie would be the little thing your put on your bean.
Going to our second most used word for our head-apparel, I assumed we would be brought much further back in history. And in fact, we were brought so far back that the trail vaporises into the mist of history.
“From hat to hæt to hattuz, all the way to Proto-Indo-European root kad.“
From hat to hæt to hattuz, all the way to Proto-Indo-European root kad. And that root word might, in my opinion, have the best, simplest and clearest meaning to what a hat is: “To guard, cover, care for, protect.”
So if you’re one of those non-existant people who insists on calling their bike-helmet a bike-hat. Well, you won! Enjoy it.
Going into this one I was curious. From interacting with Red Hatters across the globe, I’ve understood that the Canadians use this term. Canada has French parts, and toque sounds very French.
“It turns out I was right (pat-pat).”
It turns out I was right (pat-pat). The etymology of the word is simply “from French with unknown origin.” So that’s boring.
But don’t despair. There is fun to be had here too. I learned that in all parts of the world except Canada, the usage of toque refers to a cook’s hat. If you google “toque,” a lot of beanies with Canadian flags show up.
Given this, you understand why we refrain from using the word toque overly much.
My favorite term to use for our beanies is the most precise one: Knit cap. Since our beanies are actually hand knit, this suits us exceptionally well. The common terms watch cap and knit cap both have one thing in common: Cap.
Cap is also, like hat, a very base word.
We can trace the roots of this word through Old English cæppe to Latin cappa, through some uncertain paths that lead us all the way back to Proto-Indo-European kaput — which means head.
Funny in and of itself that kaput means head. So if you say, “is your bean kaput?” you’re literally saying is your head head?
Anyway. Don’t go around saying that to each other.
Hope you enjoyed nerding out with me.