Monday, November 21, 2005

Tow-heads

A colleague of mine brought his two sons to the office today and the term "tow-heads" immediately sprang from my lips.

Their hair reminded me of my current and erstwhile nephews and nieces.

I've never known how the term was derived. Now, thanks to Word Detective, I know:

"In the case of 'tow-head,' understanding the phrase depends on knowing that 'tow' is another word for raw flax or hemp fibers. 'Tow' in this sense is apparently unrelated to the 'pull' sense of 'tow,' and comes from a prehistoric [Scooter's note: not sure I buy that] German word meaning 'to spin or weave.' Flax fibers in their natural state are a very light golden color, so 'tow-head' is a logical description of someone with very light or blonde hair. The phrase 'flaxen-haired' applied to such people is somewhat more common than 'tow-head,' although both phrases are gradually disappearing."

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