What does raiment mean?

Word count: 326 words

Reading time: Just over 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: raiment.

Have you ever observed that when you learn a previously unknown word, the newcomer starts appearing all over the place? This happens to me, too. One minute I’m wondering what on earth a tajine is. Two hours later I’m attending a dinner party where the host is cooking one. (This incident happened to me 20 years ago and I’ve never forgotten it.) The same bizarre synchronicity also occurs in other areas of my life.

For example, a colleague had recently exhorted me to consider trying some online education. And less than a week later, another friend was raving about the online class she was taking (from the same college) AND, the following day I read a Nathan Heller article in the New Yorker, describing the benefits of online education. Sheer happenstance, kismet or freaky coincidence? I don’t know.

The article, headlined Laptop U, included a description of Harvard professor of Classical Greek literature, Gregory Nagy. It said:

He wears the crisp white shirts and dark blazers that have replaced tweed as the raiment of the academic caste.

Of course, I knew that raiment meant clothing but I didn’t know the etymology of the word. If I had to guess, I would have said it was French, probably because of the -ment ending.

And I was correct. The word’s an old one — from Old French areement, from areer meaning to “to array.” In the late 14th century the word started to mean “clothing, vesture” and was a shortening of the word arayment, from Anglo-French.

For me, the word carries the image of fancy clothes — I imagine writer Tom Wolfe (pictured above) in one of his trademark white suits, or a king in his royal garments. But I haven’t found any defense for this interpretation. It simply seems to be a $2 version of the word clothing.

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