Linen and Language

SFERRA Festival Tablecloth RoundBesides being one of the oldest known fabrics in world history, or maybe because of this, linen has had a fairly important impact on language. Linen is still a standard in the textiles industry, and because it has been so important for so long in the manufacturing history of the world, it became a standard for certain words long before English even existed.

Linen, the term as we know it, came from the Latin linum, which came from the Greek linon. These were the words used to name the flax plant, which is where we get linen. It is easy to trace how the word has remained very similar to its original form, and how cognates across various languages have similar structures and spellings.

Weavers used to hold threads of linen taut to determine a straight line. Hence, the origin of the word “line” to define this concept. Thus, any other word that can trace its own origins back to “line” can also point back to the original Greek and Latin terms. Even if they do not directly come from linum, the relationship is still there because of the relationship to the root word, line.

“Linoleum” is another word that arose out of its connection with linen. Linseed oil, which comes from the flax seed, is one of the ingredients in this common floor covering. Even the word linseed comes from the term linen. Linoleum seems like an odd word to get its name from linen, but thanks to the use of linseed oil, we can see the connection quite easily.

Other words, such as “lint” and “lingerie,” also maintain their relationship to “linen” because of their original association with the fabric. Lint was the stuff that was scraped off actual linen. Even though we now use “lint” to describe fluff and other bits that come off many different kinds of fabric, it received its origin from its association with linen. Similarly, lingerie was a term to label women’s underwear, which was originally all made of linen.

When you think about the associations between these words , it seems obvious now that their origin would come from “linen.” Even with its important role in the history of textiles, who would have imagined that it would even impact our language?


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