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You Don't Say John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.

In a word: antimacassar

The Baltimore Sun

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a moderately obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar — another brick to add to the wall of your working vocabulary. This week's word:


You have seen the doily, piece of cloth or crocheting placed on the back and arms of chairs or sofas to protect  the fabric from being soiled. They are known by a nineteenth-century coinage, antimacassar (pronounced AN-ti  muh-KAS-ar).

The etymology is anti, against,” “counteracting,” plus macassar, a hair oil popular in the nineteenth century. Evidently men’s overindulgence in product is not a novelty.

Makassar, also spelled Macassar, is the capital of South Sulawesi in Indonesia, the place where the ingredients of the hair oil were supposedly acquired.

Example: William Trevor’s “The children” in The New Yorker, October 31, 2005: “The armchair had a high back with wings, its faded red velvet badly worn in places, an embroidery of flowers stitched where an antimacassar might be.”

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