Daily Archives: May 14, 2009


On the front of it, this word is as bold as brass – or as the waitress in a brasserie. The sound of it, however, puts it closer to Brazil, a country (coincidentally?) known for the display and enlargement of those things a brassiere supports. But, now, what does a brassiere support? I mean, we know, we know, but francophones may well ask, “What not arms?” French for “arm” is bras, after all. And in fact the term originated in French as a word for a soldier’s arm guard, and then for a military breastplate. Its farewell to arms came with its transference to a type of corset (not corsair, which would have a coarse air; the firearms involved now are not cannons but perhaps bazookas). Its use in English came about in the early 20th century, and the modern object to which it refers was patented in France (as un soutien-gorge) in 1904 by Herminie Cadolle and in America in 1914 by Mary Phelps Jacob. Oh, and Otto Titzling? So sorry. A hoax, a confabulation by one Wallace Rayburn in his 1971 canard Bust-Up: The Uplifting Tale of Otto Titzling and the Development of the Bra. Mr. Rayburn has made boobs of many people, including the devisers of Trivial Pursuit. (They also went for the red herring on Thomas Crapper, but that’s another scoop.) But… ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on, bra! (NB the bra in that song is actually a form of brother – the song is about a West Indian immigrant to Britain and ob-la-di, ob-la-da is a Yoruba expression for “life goes on.” Like a brassiere, I suppose.)