The Joy of Language Learning

Sutra and Sartorial

Latin for sew is suere. If we add the prefix con- to it we get consuere (i.e. to sew together) from which derives the French word couture and the related term haute couture. Earlier couture simply referred to the art of dress making. Now it’s often used specifically to refer to the art or business of making and selling highly fashionable ‘designer’ garments or clothing. Similarly, haute couture, which literally means ‘high dressmaking’, is now used to mean ‘high fashion’ or to refer to designers who create high class or exclusive fashions, as in, haute couture wedding gowns.

If we add a- to couture we get the root for another French word borrowed into English – accoutre which means to dress up (or equip) someone with a special costume or equipment, as in, ‘The attack on the camp was sudden; the resting soldiers got no chance to accoutre themselves.’

Other related words are suture (from past participle of suere, sut-) which can be used as a verb (to stitch), as in, the wound needs to be sutured or as a noun (a seam, or a stitch), as in, the sutures were removed a week after being applied and sutra (Sanskrit cognate for thread, rule) which means a maxim or rule expressed in brief.

The words sartor (used jokingly for tailor) and sartorial (related to tailoring or style of dressing, as in sartorial workmanship or sartorial elegance) derive from Lt sarcire, to patch or mend. And seamy originally meant ‘showing seams'(of a stitched article) from which it gets its sense of (showing that which is most) unpleasant or disreputable, as in, the seamy side of his business or he grew up in the seamy side streets of the town.

Words discussed:

Couture, Haute Couture

Accoutre, Accoutrements, Suture, Sutra

Sartor, Sartorial, Seamy

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