Saturday, August 7, 2010

Etymology of Galoshes

Galoshes. The name for those cheerful rubber boots that children have enjoyed wearing while jumping in fresh rain puddles for generations has a surprisingly ethnic origin that can be traced back to prehistoric Germanic.

Before the rubber overshoes that we are familiar with today appeared on the market, galoshes were a type of wooden shoe or sandal. The Oxford English Dictionary maintains that a galosh was originally a generic term for any type of shoe or boot. The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology holds that the term entered the English language during the 1300s as a type of footwear, with earlier variations including galoches, galleys and galegs. By the middle of the 14th century, Galocher began appearing as a surname for individuals and families that made galoshes. The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology suggests that galoshes may have entered the English language from the Old French galoche, which was derived from the Vulgar Latin *galopia and the Greek kalopodion. If this is the case, then the final root of galoshes is most likely the Indo-European *keu-.

However, the majority of the other reference materials point to a decidedly different etymology of galoshes. The prevailing opinion outside of the OED seems to be that galoshes were originally a type of wooden clog that were worn by the Gauls when the Romans invaded and conquered the area. The term Gaul itself seems to be rooted in a prehistoric Germanic word that referred to “outsider, foreigner,” and the galoshes referred to the wooden shoes of the Gauls. These shoes were a type of overshoe that allowed an owner to simply slip their feet into while they were still wearing their indoor shoes.

Galoshes did not begin being used to refer to rubber boots that are designed to be worn over regular shoes until the 19th century. While they appear to have started appearing in great numbers in England during the 20th century, I've yet to figure out exactly how the rubber version of this overshoe was named or marketed.

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