The Age of Empire

by Erin on August 18, 2008

Linda sent me a great link to this dress:


stylelist empire

It's not that the dress is so great, really; it's more about the description:


stylelist empire

In which the writer posits that there is a part of the body called "the empire," which is right under the bust, above the natural waist.

It would be easy to write this off as an error (which I guess it technically is, at this point) but it's more interesting to look at it as an example of lexical change. (Perhaps this belongs on my other blog?) There are lots of different ways that words can change, but I think this is an example of a folk-etymological change.

If you had never made the connection that "empire" in this context refers to an actual empire, it would be completely logical to assume that "empire" is a more genteel way to say "high-waisted" or "under bust," right? Folk etymologies come up with explanations that seem logical and that fit the facts. Which is a simpler explanation: that a silhouette is named after some long-dead French people, or that the name is based on the part of the body it emphasizes?

I'm not trying to say that this interpretation is right; I'm just trying to say that it's interesting … but I also wouldn't argue that a word must slavishly adhere to its etymological origins. Words change, after all. That's just how things are. I don't know if this usage is going to catch on, but I'm going to keep watching for it. (If you hate it, never fear: Nobody's going to force you to start referring to your "empire.")

I also look forward to finding out that the part of my body where the knee meets the calf is called "the capri," and that a little further down I have a "clamdigger."

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