Sunday, February 27, 2011


ep·au·lette, also ep·au·let, n.
(e-pə-ˈlet, ‘e-pə-ˌlet)
An ornamental fringed shoulder pad formerly worn as part of a military uniform.
[1778, from French épaulette, dim. of épaule shoulder, from Old French espalle, from L. Latin spatula shoulder blade, spoon, dim. of Latin spatha spoon, sword]
The same epaulettes (2nd image) shown on the shoulders of 1st American president George Washington (1732-1799) in the painting (1st image) by Charles Willson Peale are now preserved by the Smithsonian Institution. In a book of morbid trivia that I am reading, British author Geoffrey Abbott notes that metal epaulettes were worn by officers in bygone days to protect them from injury by saber blows deflected off their helmets. In more recent times, indicators of rank were transferred from epaulettes to less conspicuous places on the uniform when they showed Japanese snipers in WWII exactly at whom to aim. So these shoulder ornaments have gone from practical to symbolic to mere fashion accessories.

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