“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

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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.):

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

22 thoughts on ““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. 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.

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

      1. 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.

      2. 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”.

      3. Do a google image search for with keywords:

        snorkel jacket

        And see what comes up.

      4. In the 1970s when I owned at various points, an anorak, a parka and a cagoule, the differences were as follows:
        1. Parka – pretty well insulated, fur trimmed hood, canvaslike exterior, zip up from.
        2. Anorak – quilted, but lightly, hood – but thinner than a parka and without the snorkel jutting out (an anorak would not shield your face from bitter winds like a parka did, and less waterproof than a parka.
        3. Cagoule – very thin material, hood, no front opening (you pulled it on over your head). It packed up really small into about the size of a standard men’s toiletries bag, so was often carried with you (rather than worn) and put on in a hurry when it started raining. Cagoules were waterproof and windproof, but provided no actual insulation.

  3. 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.

  4. 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”.

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

    1. It means nerd, and can have the same connotations – originally entirely negative, now rather more mixed.

  6. 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.

    1. That is my recollection as well. I remember a mountain safety film when I was at school that explained it.

  7. 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.

  8. When I was growing up in the 70s an Anorak was different from a Parka. Although an Anorak would usually have a hood, this was a quilted thing, with no fur poking out of it. The Parka was more of a canvas type construction, and did have the snorkelly hood with fur poking out. Cagoules are something else again: very lightweight, providing waterproofing, but no other insulation for warmth.

  9. Going on Guide camp, ‘cags’ as we called them, were definitely on our kit list (southeast England, 1970s-1980s). Thin, waterproof, nylon and often blue or orange, folding into the hood. Many had zips. So not solely mountaineering jargon.

  10. I’m surprised to see the OED describe an anorak as a ‘jacket’. This strikes me as a bit of an Americanism, I’d say it was a coat.

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