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Jumper

Q From Helen Schupp: I’m curious about different meanings of the word jumper as an article of clothing. In the US, this refers to a type of dress with a pinafore-style top worn with a blouse or shirt; when my Australian daughter-in-law uses it, she means what I, an American English speaker, call a sweater or a sweatshirt.

A The British usage also describes a sweater or pullover, that is, a knitted garment with long sleeves for the upper part of the body, though my impression is that pullover is rather old-fashioned, with sweater now much more common. Jumper seems to have appeared about the middle of the nineteenth century, originally for what the Oxford English Dictionary describes as “A kind of loose outer jacket or shirt reaching to the hips”, in other words what I would call a fisherman’s smock. The origin has nothing to do with the verb to jump, but comes from the dialect jump or jup, meaning a man’s short coat or a woman’s under-bodice or tunic. This may derive in turn from the French juppe, a petticoat (now in modern French, jupe, “skirt”), which ultimately derived from the Arabic jubba, a loose outer garment.

The word has evolved differently in Britain and the US; British usage has moved towards a garment that is specifically woollen, the US towards any upper-body garment for women. The OED refers to a catalogue of 1908 which talks about a loose-fitting blouse worn over a skirt, from which Americans later derived jumper suit for a jumper and skirt combination; I’ve found a plate in a Sears, Roebuck catalogue of 1916 that uses jumper frock to describe a pinafore dress worn over a blouse or shirt, which seems to be the original term, later shortened to jumper.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 6 Feb. 1999

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 6 February 1999.