Thursday, May 05, 2005

Implausible Etymology: Bigwigs

Also in that phrase origin nonsense I mentioned earlier, there was this bizarre bread-related scenario:
As incredible as it sounds, men and women took baths only twice a year! (May and October) Women kept their hair covered, while men shaved their heads (because of lice and bugs) and wore wigs. Wealthy men could afford good wigs made from wool. The wigs couldn’t be washed, so to clean them they could carve out a loaf of bread, put the wig in the shell, and bake it for 30 minutes. The heat would make the wig big and fluffy, hence the term “big wig.” Today we often use the term “here comes the Big Wig” because someone appears to be or is powerful and wealthy.
I'd love to see some evidence for that one. Word Detective offers a less colorful and more plausible origin, mentioning nothing of baking wool wigs inside hollowed bread loaves to clean them and instead pointing out simply that when it was common for men to wear wigs, the richer ones wore bigger ones.


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