Writing Tips at GarySpeer.com

Tips for writers and musing about writing and life

Fun word origins: Why are UGGs considered so tony?

I’ve always been fascinated by word origins and meanings. The formal study of that is called “etymology,” or study of the history and evolution of words. It’s always been fun for me to explore words, how we use them and why they are used one way and not another. I generally love to read mystery and suspense novels, and to me etymology is sort of like mystery or suspense writing brought down to the word level.

I was looking at some footwear online recently, and came across “UGG Classic Tall” boots. I’ve never owned a pair of UGG boots, though I’ve seen some I’d like to have, and I’ve always wondered about the name. A bit of Googling tells me that “UGG,” before it became a trademarked brand name, simply referred to a type of Australian boot made from sheepskins. It may, one source said, have evolved from the word “ugly,” since well-worn sheepskin boots generally weren’t thought of as attractive or stylish.

When I thought about “UGG” being derived from “ugly,” I automatically asked myself, “So why does the word ‘tony’ mean elegant or high-classed or special?” (That’s just the sort of mind I have: I’ve always wondered about “tony” used that way.) It turns out that “tony” comes from the American English slang expression “high-toned,” and dates back to writings in 1877. I also discovered that “tony” referred to a particular reddish-brown fashion color that was popular in the U.S. in the 1920s.

See? You can find out all sorts of fun things about words, their origin and meaning, if you study etymology. I recommend the Online Etymology Dictionary as a convenient starting point. (No, I haven’t got a ready link for it. Google it for yourself. And when you get there, just for fun look up the term “Google.”)