“Anorak” (the jacket)

My learned colleague Lynne Murphy regularly tweets a “Difference of the Day” (#DotD), pointing out cases where the U.K. and the U.S. use different terms for the same thing. A few days ago, she tweeted

Screen Shot 2019-05-13 at 11.46.57 AM

Several commenters pointed out the similar word “anorak.” And indeed it’s hard to tell them apart by their OED definitions:

Anorak: “A weatherproof jacket of skin or cloth, with hood attached, worn by the Inuit in Greenland; a similar garment elsewhere.” (The first citation is from 1924, the first one in a non-Innuit general sense from 1937.)

Cagoule: “A lightweight, waterproof (or windproof) hooded garment resembling an anorak, worn originally by mountaineers and now generally.”

The first cite for “cagoule” is in 1952 but it didn’t start climbing in popularity till the late 1970s, as this Google Ngram Viewer graph suggests (it still hasn’t taken off in the U.S.):

Screen Shot 2019-05-13 at 12.00.47 PM

Why then? Lynne cleverly suggested, “Looks like ‘cagoule’ in UK is partly motivated by avoiding ‘anorak’ b/c it has a negative sense in BrE.” Negative is right. Here’s the relevant OED entry for “anorak”:

Screen Shot 2019-05-13 at 12.05.56 PM

This insulting “anorak” (similar to “train-spotter”) hasn’t caught on in the U.S., but the literal term has. It’s been used 414 times by the New York Times, including nineteen since the start of 2018. For example, this is from a December 2018 fashion article on “war-core” clothing.

A surfeit of dystopian apparel was evident on the men’s wear runways this year.
Junya Watanabe showed nylon anoraks, wool lumberjack jackets and firefighter coats adorned with the kind of bright reflective tape usually seen on school crossing guards.
Prada trotted out padded nylon vests that look like they could repel bullets and oversize rain suits that looked like they could protect against nuclear fallout.
And for his Calvin Klein Collection show in February, Raf Simons, the creative director, dressed the male models in safety-cone-orange jumpsuits, knee-high waders and knit balaclavas, all of which gave new meaning to the term “fashion emergency.”
16WARCORE-COMBO-superJumbo

“War-core” garb. On the left, a Watanabe anorak. I think.

16 responses to ““Anorak” (the jacket)

  1. Like calling someone a “pocket protector?”

    On Mon, May 13, 2019 at 2:11 PM Not One-Off Britishisms wrote:

    > Ben Yagoda posted: “My learned colleague Lynne Murphy regularly tweets a > “Difference of the Day” (#DotD), pointing out cases where the U.K. and the > U.S. use different terms for the same thing. A few days ago, she tweeted > Several commenters pointed out the similar word “an” >

  2. Yes, the synecdoche seems to work better in British English than in American.

  3. I would have said the difference between a cagoule and an anorak is that a cagoule is lighter. I’d expect an anorak to be quilted with probably a fur-trimmed hood.

    • Nick L. Tipper

      Ah, now, careful. Doesn’t the fur-trimmed hood make it a parka? (Another Arctic region word, I think.)

      • I think the item that Americans refer to as a parka or colloquially as a “snorkel” is what is called an anorak in British English. That is, I don’t think an “anorak” in British usage is necessarily a pullover coat, but could have a zip front.

      • Paul Dormer

        Yes, I think an anorak has a zip front, a cagoule has no fastening.

      • Exactly. A cagoule is a sub-species of what American outdoorsy types call a “shell”. A cagoule is a pullover shell with a hood.

        An anorak is a much more heavily insulated garment. It’s what an American would likely call a parka. The stereotypical anorak that gives rise to the metonymical use of the term as equivalent to “nerd” is the style of military parka with a faux fur-lined hood that is referred to in America as a “snorkel”.

      • You had me till “snorkel,” of which I have never heard.

      • Do a google image search for with keywords:

        snorkel jacket

        And see what comes up.

  4. Nick L. Tipper

    I just googled ‘anorak’ images. About 95% of those on sale are the pull-over-the-head type. A far cry from the anoraks I remember in the 1970s which were all of the zip-front style.

  5. And I’ve just caught a question being asked on the trivia game Tipping Point of UK TV: “From the French word meaning ‘hood’, what is the name for a light-weight waterproof anorak?” Yes, the answer was “cagoule”.

  6. Calling an obsessive an anorak isn’t necessarily an insult. It can just be descriptive. ‘he’s a bit of an anorak’.

  7. This has reminded me of the character “The Anorak” who was on Children’s BBC when I was watching it in the early-mid 90s. A geeky know-it-all dressed in said apparel who shouted “I KNOW!” at every opportunity.

    Bloody hell, it’s amazing we all grew up sane.

  8. The anorak and the cagoule were distinct specialist items of clothing. The cagoule was a lightweight, longer waterproof garment made of nylon with no lining. It had wide sleeves and a loose fit so that it could be pulled on and off easily over both anorak and rucksack. The anorak was a shorter pullover hooded jacket in a cotton canvas with a cotton lining; it was not waterproof.

    Cagoule wasn’t even heard of as a word or as an item except in mountaineering. Everyday rainwear was a trench coat, a mackintosh or an overcoat. My school prospectus specified a Burberry coat. My aunt called that a gaberdine. Gore -Tex changed everything when it made mountain clothing both waterproof and breathable, unlike the cagoule.

  9. I’ve always wondered what an “anorak” was. The only association I’ve ever had was derogatory, from “Suburban Rebels” by The Business:
    Flared blue jeans and anoraks
    With yellow streaks all down their backs.

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