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'Fringe' or 'Bangs'?

Believe it or not, the American word "bangs" comes from the way people cut horses tails.

By
Mignon Fogarty
2-minute read
a woman with bangs (or fringe as it's called in the U.K.)
The Quick And Dirty

They're called "fringe" in the U.K. and "bangs" in the U.S.

Last week I mentioned my bangs, which are called “fringe” in British English, and a friend on LinkedIn who’s based in the UK, Chris Croft, asked why Americans call them bangs. And I have to admit…fringe makes more sense.

Fringe

According to Etymonline, the word “fringe” goes all the way back to the early 14th century and meant the same thing as it means today. Fringe is that decorative border material made of threads. And it looks a lot like the hair on my forehead.

Bangs

Around 1832, Americans started referring to horse tails cut straight across to look kind of like tassles as “bang-tails.” 

A few decades later, around 1878, we started using the word “bangs” to describe human hair that was cut straight across the forehead.

It could come from the idea of a bang as an abrupt noise, kind of like how the hairstyle is a little abrupt, or it could come from the idea of the quick cut that takes off the horses tail, that bangs it off.

That’s what I found. I still can’t tell you why Americans call them bangs instead of fringe, but that’s the evolution of the word, and I can tell you that I never in my life heard it called “fringe,” as an American, until I became interested in language.

Singular or Plural?

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And that last sentence brought up an interesting thing I hadn’t noticed before. “Bangs” is plural, but “fringe” seems to be singular. I said, “Americans call THEM bangs,” but I said, “I’ve never heard IT called fringe.” Interesting. 

The Oxford English Dictionary does have some examples from the 1800s in which they’re called “fringes,” and in the U.S. we might say something like “My, that’s a heavy bang,” so I guess they both can be singular and plural, but we just commonly tend to use the words differently. That’s English for you!

Thanks for the question, Chris.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show.

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