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