Dictionary.com

Lexical Investigations: Balaclava

A motley combination of Anglo-Saxon, Latin, and Germanic dialects, the English language (more or less as we know it) coalesced between the 9th and 13th centuries. Since then, it has continued to import and borrow words and expressions from around the world, and the meanings have mutated. (Awesome and awful once meant nearly the same thing.) Some specimens in the English vocabulary have followed unusually circuitous routes to their place in the contemporary lexicon, and this series, Lexical Investigations, unpacks those words hiding in our midst.

Balaclava

Balaclavas and cardigans have more in common than keeping you warm—they both owe their names to the Crimean War. During the Battle of Balaclava in 1854, British troops were underprepared for the cold Ukrainian winter, and unlike their French counterparts, who were allowed to wear as many layers as required to stay warm, the British were expected to adhere to their uniforms. The poor conditions caused a scandal in Britain and motivated civilians to donate money and knit warm clothing for the troops using government-issued patterns and regulation yarn, including a wool cap to be worn under their helmets. The British referred to these caps as Balaclava helmets, and later just called them balaclavas. Troops were also issued button-down woolen jackets, which were named after the Lord of Cardigan, who led their ill-fated charge known as the Light Brigade against the Russians.

Popular References:

Balaclava, Movie (1928)

“Balaclava,” The Arctic Monkeys, CD (2007)

Relevant Quotations:

“Report says, these ill-clothed warriors did not cover themselves with glory in the Crimean war, and that on one occasion, during the attack on Balaclava, having more discretion than valour, they did not wait for the Russians, but retired hastily to the town again, where the women and camp followers, with a sad want of appreciation, gave them such a smart trouncing that the unfortunate Tunisians almost regretted not having kept the field.”

Hunt’s Yachting Magazine, Vol 19 (1870)

“Mlle Riego gave a crochet receipt for it in her 1854 booklet, but did not call it ‘balaclava’ and gave no directions for knitting it.”

—Richard Rutt, A History of Hand Knitting (1987)

“In the first winter of the Crimean War, British women read reports that their men were dying by the hundreds of exposure to the cold. They began knitting close-fitting covers that left only the eyes expose, then sent the packages to ‘Balaclava.’”

—Andrew Evans and Marc Di Duca, Ukraine (2010)

Sources:

The Crimean War: A History, By Orlando Figes. Macmillan, April 12, 2011, pg 304.

Look and Learn. Issue Number 915. Published on August 4, 1979.

51 Comments

  1. Elizbeth -  October 28, 2014 - 10:38 am

    The portable refrigerator actually plugs directly into the cigarette lighter in the car so the drinks
    are always cold. It has a team of trained people who are
    qualified enough to tackle all kinds of refrigerator problems.
    The two-door type refrigerators may be a wonderful choice because the freezer has a greater capacity and will accommodate more food.

    Reply
  2. nina -  May 1, 2013 - 12:10 pm

    i do not get this please speak english as we know it

    Reply
  3. Matt -  March 14, 2013 - 8:18 pm

    I believe your comment on Cardigans is unintentionally deceptive.

    Although the word Cardigan does come from the particular Lord Cardigan who earned infamy by leading the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava, he was in fact issuing his men with these items of apparel for many years before his involvement in the Crimean War and Balaclava.

    Lord Cardigan was an Officer in a day and age when Officers were paid to maintain their troop of men by their superior Officer. With this money they were expected to pay for their troop’s food, wage, equipment and clothing. Whatever they didn’t spend on these staples was the Officers to keep.

    Many of Lord Cardigan’s men were very poor on joining, coming from a largely agricultural background. They were so poor that most did not own clothing outside of their uniforms. When the Soldiers had time off they therefore wore there uniforms. Soldiers on leave drink, drunken soldiers stumble and fight, stumbling and fighting leads to damaged clothing.

    Lord Cardigan would then have to buy his soldier a new Uniform coat (although the cost would be subsidised somewhat by the fine the soldier received).

    The manufacture of Cardigans was commissioned by Lord Cardigan to give his men something cheap to wear when they were out on the town not, as the article suggests, for a cold battlefield.

    Reply
  4. Darren -  March 5, 2013 - 1:55 am

    Hi,
    Love the site but have a problem with your reference that says “a wool cap to be worn under their helmets.”
    There were no helmets at that stage. Helmets as we know them, the British ‘Brodie,’ did not come into existence until the end of 1915 and were only issued to front line troops (trench helmets as they were known,) as of the early part of 1916.

    regards

    Darren

    Reply
  5. N. Mystedin -  March 4, 2013 - 8:00 pm

    It comes from Bloodshed and sacrifices as usual. English is language that deviates from all human conventions. But worth studying!

    Reply
  6. Suji... -  March 4, 2013 - 6:40 pm

    The story behind Balaclava is very interesting and touchy…

    I can give many words that English borrowed…

    eg. – for example – exemplī grātiā.

    Catamaran – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catamaran
    Curry
    mango

    kiosk

    Reply
  7. Eli -  March 4, 2013 - 1:09 pm

    Well i have always pronounced it bala-clava who knows, and no this is not a random post of a definition because i rescently bought a modern balaclava and is being shipped as we speak..

    Reply
  8. lovella anderson -  March 4, 2013 - 6:55 am

    omg that balaclave thing is soo cool i never tought that i could learn so much in one day about some thing smal

    Reply
  9. Builder -  March 4, 2013 - 6:12 am

    @ Bubba, “codpiece”, according to online etymology dictionary:

    mid-15c., “a bagged appendage to the front of the breeches; often conspicuous” [OED], from Old English codd “a bag, pouch, husk,” in Middle English, “testicles” (common Germanic, cf. Old Norse koddi “pillow,” Dutch kodde “bag”) + piece (n.).

    Reply
  10. Victoria Bergesen -  March 4, 2013 - 5:54 am

    In Britain is was always pronounced bala-clava with the primary accent on the first syllable and the secondary accent on the third syllable. Although I am American I don’t ever remember hearing anyone here use the word. In the US they are called ski masks.

    Reply
  11. timothy wu -  March 3, 2013 - 8:24 pm

    nice but how do you pronounce balaclava and when i looked it up on the internet there isn’t even a word called balaclava

    Reply
  12. hi -  March 3, 2013 - 6:55 pm

    gnm

    Reply
  13. hi -  March 3, 2013 - 6:55 pm

    it is pronounced bal-uh-klah-vuh

    Reply
  14. hi -  March 3, 2013 - 6:55 pm

    its pronounced bal-uh-klah-vuh

    Reply
  15. No Name -  March 3, 2013 - 5:08 pm

    No Name is my name.

    Reply
  16. Kenzie -  March 3, 2013 - 5:06 pm

    lol at first i thought it said “baklava” and i went….ooh yay an article about food! aren’t i stupid….

    Reply
  17. bsting -  March 3, 2013 - 2:56 pm

    (ˌbæləˈklɑːvə) Mostly like “ball.a.kla.vuh”

    Reply
  18. Neil McGowan -  March 3, 2013 - 7:04 am

    Today Balaklava (sp!) is a charming marina resort town in Ukraine, on the Crimean peninsular. It is lined with chic pavement cafes, small hotels, and very expensive yachts.

    Yet the most surprising thing in Balaklava is a former cold-war era nuclear submarine base, tunneled into the sea cliff face, for miles! Miles and miles of artificial channels run through this base. Today the public can go there on guided tours :))

    Reply
  19. BumpRoad -  March 3, 2013 - 5:32 am

    A friend with a Ph.D in English and vocabulary in particular, says that modern English is/was lexically 66% or abt two-thirds Scandinavian. Hastings was a major factor in the lexical development, as it solidified the Norman population’s standing.

    Thank you for these discussions; my little grey cells often get a little workout.

    Reply
  20. BumpRoad -  March 3, 2013 - 5:22 am

    You mentioned several languages, and germanic language group deserve to be mentioned. I would however point specifically to old Norse and the Norman language, which ended up being a mix of middle French and the bit shall we say degraded old Norse. The Normans didn’t mix all that much unless they were higher up the social ladder, in which case they spoke French of the day.

    Anyway I guess I’m off-topic here, but I though that the Scandinavian vocabulary in particular is something one interested in English should do well to remember. As a reminder, place names in northern parts of England, let alone Scotland, give us clear indication. Take Knutsford, named after the Norwegian king, whose name was Knut (a.k.a. Canute), and who was popular.

    Reply
  21. Istvan Kiraly -  March 2, 2013 - 4:59 pm

    Hello. Your short “history” above of the English language is quite
    wrong : the mixture does not the pudding make.
    Stay merry.
    IK.

    Reply
  22. fatihurrahman -  March 2, 2013 - 5:43 am

    this is the first time I opened this website.
    before I opened this website. I don’t KNOW much ABout an ENGLISH language.

    thanks for information.

    Reply
  23. The Pronouncer -  March 1, 2013 - 1:45 pm

    @anonymous: It’s pronounced “balaclava.”

    Reply
  24. Joe -  March 1, 2013 - 1:10 pm

    As an Army officer who was formerly enlisted, I was schooled in the difference between a balaclava and a ski mask by more than one person yelling in my face. They are similar, and the words are used interchangeably, but don’t led a Drill Sergeant or a TAC Officer hear you call a balaclava a ski mask. Technically, a proper balaclava has one hole for your whole face, while a ski mask has two eye holes and a mouth hole.

    I’ve always heard it pronounced bala-clava.

    As for codpiece, someone explained to me that in the days when they were worn, “codfish” or “cod” was a euphemism for the male member. Thus the codpiece was a piece that covered your cod.

    Reply
  25. Shims -  March 1, 2013 - 9:35 am

    Where’d you get that great photo?

    Reply
  26. Jenni -  March 1, 2013 - 6:55 am

    “In December drinking horchata, I look psychotic in a balaclava.” (“Horchata” by Vampire Weekend)

    Reply
  27. Richard -  March 1, 2013 - 6:15 am

    “A motley combination of Anglo-Saxon, Latin, and Germanic dialects…”

    Redundant much?

    Reply
  28. Dasha -  February 28, 2013 - 4:50 pm

    I grew up very close to Balaklava in Crimea. What a beautiful place!

    Reply
  29. Catherine -  February 28, 2013 - 12:43 pm

    Very interesting. I never knew there was a Battle of Balaclava

    Reply
  30. ? -  February 28, 2013 - 12:43 pm

    And why is this necessary for the survival of humanoids?

    Reply
  31. scissorpaws -  February 28, 2013 - 9:46 am

    So how about TOQUE? We all pronounce it TOOG but the spelling would suggest TOKE. French no doubt. TOOQ might be a preferrable pronunciation.

    Reply
  32. Connie -  February 28, 2013 - 6:05 am

    Interesting… there is a town in Jamaica named Balaclava. Leaves me to wonder how it got its name.

    Reply
  33. Chunkylefunga -  February 28, 2013 - 5:48 am

    Anon – It’s pronounced bala-clava.

    Reply
  34. blusterbill -  February 28, 2013 - 3:40 am

    To Anoynymous, sorry for the typo error – it should read “bala-clava”.

    Reply
  35. blusterbill -  February 28, 2013 - 3:38 am

    To Anoynymous, the last pronunciation is the correct one here in Britain. “bala-clave”.

    Reply
  36. anonymous2 -  February 28, 2013 - 2:19 am

    @ anonymous — bal-uh-klah-vuh

    Reply
  37. Mojo -  February 27, 2013 - 10:46 pm

    How do You pronounce balaclava ? same question :p

    Reply
  38. Harley6Kick5 -  February 27, 2013 - 9:26 pm

    oh okay. I think I know where this is going.

    Reply
  39. Rabsicle -  February 27, 2013 - 8:38 pm

    it’s pronounced ba-la-cla-va btw :)

    Reply
  40. Rabsicle -  February 27, 2013 - 8:37 pm

    lol YES arctic monkeys, first thing that came to mind when I saw this headline

    Reply
  41. Teto -  February 27, 2013 - 6:56 pm

    I KNOW HOW TO KNIT SO WHO WILL TELL ME HOW TO MAKE ONE? LIVING IN LAS VEGAS IS SUPPOSED TO BE HOT BUT IT’S NOT. SO I WEAR A HAT TO BED—— NOT A PRETTY SIGHT, WOOL SOX AND TUCK MY FEET INTO MY NIGHTY, HAVE A HEATING PAD IN MY LAP. I WANNA MAKE A BALA=CLAVA…. MOTHER-MAY-I ?

    Reply
  42. Trailblazer -  February 27, 2013 - 5:45 pm

    In 1965 I was a part of “Operation Deep Freeze” and was privilaged to spend a year in Antartica. At some point during the dark and cold, a New Zealander was kind enough to give me a “Balaclava” to help to stay warm. I cherished that more than anything I had during that time. It kept me warmer than any of the U.S. issue clothing and if faced extreme cold, it’s the first piece of suvival gear I would I would seek out.

    Reply
  43. omg -  February 27, 2013 - 2:18 pm

    ARCTIC MONKEYS

    Reply
  44. Bubba -  February 27, 2013 - 4:20 am

    Another item of apparel who’s name I’ve often wondered the origin of – ” Codpiece”

    Reply
  45. Anoynymous -  February 26, 2013 - 7:58 pm

    How do You pronounce balaclava ? is it balac-lava or bal-aclava or bala-clava?

    Reply
  46. BALACLAVA | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  February 26, 2013 - 12:35 pm

    [...] ‘Balaclava’ or a ski mask — Mocha Java in a coffee flask — Why does this seem pointless at this time — Funny though — Almost Greek a Pastry Rhyme — Filo dough — Congressional Sludge green slime. — Seven Eleven Marketing Democracy Withdrawals. — Spinning Wheels Sub Prime. –>>L.T.Rhyme This entry was posted in DICTCOMHOTWORD, L.T.Rhyme and tagged LT, LTRhyme, the HOT WORD on February 26, 2013 by LTRhyme. [...]

    Reply
  47. tommy -  February 26, 2013 - 6:28 am

    intresting

    Reply

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