Thursday, 10 February 2011


While watching a video clip of the pilot series "Are you being served?" yesterday I ran into a word I had long forgotten - haberdashery. Its General British pronunciation is /ˈhæbəˌdæʃərɪ/. According to OED the etymology of <haberdasher> is doubtful: 
Has the form of a derivative of haberdash n. [...], or of the Anglo-Norman hapertas (quasi *hapertassier, *haberdassier); but the actual nature of the relationship between these words is left doubtful by their relative dates, as well as by the undetermined relation in which haberdash and hapertas stand to each other.
As to the meaning(s) of <haberdashery>:
In British English you can buy buttons, hooks, needles, ribbon, thread etc. at a haberdashery.
In American English, Merriam Webster tells us, it denotes a place where men's clothing and accessories are sold.
Here's the OED2 date chart for the word (there seem to be no date charts in OED3 any more):

Have you been to a British haberdashery lately?

A colleague of mine from the American Studies Dep. told me that Harry Truman had been a haberdasher before he became 33rd President of the US. He opened a haberdashery together with his close friend Edward Jacobson in Kansas City, but the store went bankrupt in 1921.
Truman-Jacobson haberdashery around 1920


  1. UK haberdasher's = US notions store
    US haberdashery = UK gentlemen's outfitter

    Had no idea about the unclear etymology.

  2. Thanks for the lexeme equations, Lipman!

  3. Kraut, "haberdashery" in RP is also pronounced /ˌhæbəˈdæʃ(ə)ri/.

  4. LPD has the main stress on the first syll only as does ODP; CPD has both patterns.

  5. I find myself in complete sympathy with Alex's claim that haberdashery can sound a perfectly credible General British usage with tonic stress on its third syllable. Mind you, I think it's about as useless a word for discussion by EFL purveyors as it's possible to find at least in regard to current Brit usages. I shd think that it only survives in British stores that cultivate Olde Worlde styles. As to America you never know what quaint archaisms may linger in some corner over the Pond.

  6. @Blimey: With all due respect - you can and may opine that this discussion is useless, but as an EFL purveyor to students of English and American literature of all centuries I reserve the right to discuss any word of my liking.