A zipper is something one rarely thinks about until it breaks. It’s something we use every day, from trousers to jackets to purses to zip-lock bags. Yet the actual modern zipper has only been around 101 years! The idea began forming as a practical design in 1851 in the mind of Elias Howe, who patented an “Automatic Continuous Clothing Closure” (no wonder that name never caught on). He was not a marketing whiz, and the idea petered out. At the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, a device designed by Whitcomb Judson was launched but wasn’t very practical, and again, it failed to take off commercially. In 1906, a Swedish-American electrical engineer by the name of Gideon Sundback was hired by (and married into) the Fastener Manufacturing and Machine Company (Meadville, PA), and became the head designer. By December 1913, he’d improved the fastener into what we would recognize as the modern zipper, and the patent for the “Separable Fastener” was issued in 1917. In March of that year, a Swiss inventor, Mathieu Burri, improved the design with a lock-in system added to the end of the row of teeth, but because of patent conflicts, his version never made it to production.
The name “zipper” was coined by the B.F. Goodrich Company in 1923, when they used Sundback’s fastener on a new type of rubber boot. When they first came into production, zippers were mainly used on boots and tobacco pouches, only making it onto leather jackets in 1925 (produced by Schott NYC), trousers in 1937 (beating out the traditional button method for men’s trousers). The next time you use a zipper, stop and think about what you would have had to use 100 years ago!
And in the meantime, here are a couple idioms that have arisen using “zip” or “zipper” or which refer directly to that imagery:
Zip it (up) – close your mouth
Zip your lip/mouth
Euphemisms about undone zippers are numerous; here are a few of the better ones (IMHO):
Barn/stable door’s open
What do birds/airplanes do?
Flag’s at half-mast
Front/trap door’s open
Your horse/colt’s gonna bolt
Mind the gap
XYZ (PDQ) – “Examine Your Zipper (pretty darn quick)” – Your zipper is open
25 April 2015, by Stephanie Huesler
Language is a fluid concept, constantly changing, adapting, creating, compensating and inventing itself. Euphemisms are a prime example of that fluctuation and adaptation; successive generations come to know only the euphemism which in turn ceases to be one by that very definition, and which means that new ones will be invented to skirt the issue once again. For instance, there are hundreds of words for smell or stink, yet only a handful of satisfactory synonyms for words like fragrance, simply because hiding the ugly requires far more creativity than hiding the lovely. For that reason alone, writers who fall back on expletives like the highly offensive F-word (a euphemism for, well, you know) are simply lazy in my book; they’re missing a great opportunity for creativity! Interestingly, that word’s meaning has never shifted over time – it’s been in the English language since before the fifteenth century, and even then it was only written in cipher because it was too offensive to record in ink. In my opinion it still is, and one should consider very carefully before offending unknown numbers of readers from continuing to read your book or blog; more than once have I ended reading a book when they used the word several times in the course of the first few chapters, because honestly it says something about the extent of their language abilities and their spectrum (or lack thereof) of creativity.
As a society’s norms shift, so do the euphemisms that they use to communicate. In the Renaissance, corpulent women were considered the height of beauty; curvy, curvaceous, and shapely were instances of positive euphemisms; today they might be used by some idiot in the media to insult a Hollywood starlet who (by any other standard would be considered normal if not a little thin) gained a pound or two. Now idiot might be too strong a word; I could say brain cell-deficient, or someone who has delusions of adequacy. I would like to point out the obvious here: If you’re going to insult someone, at least spell it right… more often than not, you see people calling someone “dumn” or “dumm”, which smacks of the pot calling the kettle black…
For an extensive list of euphemisms, please click on the image. That website also has lists of anagrams, clichés, metaphors, oxymorons, palindrome and pleonasms, so it’s worth bookmarking for writers!
For an interesting TED Talk (13:00) on the topic of euphemisms, please click here.