Thursday, April 18, 2013

Word of the day: roach

The word of the day is roach:

Downstairs, on a bracket shelf next to a vase with hand-painted pink roses on it, there is a matching picture of him, taken at the same time. His hair is roached and he is wearing a high stiff collar, and hardly anything shows in his face but his Welsh ancestry.

William Maxwell, So Long, See You Tomorrow (1980).
It’s an American verb. The Oxford English Dictionary explains:

1803: “To clip or trim (a horse’s mane) close to the neck so the hair stands on end; to give (a horse) a roach mane.” The verb derives from a nautical noun: “an upward curve cut in to the foot of a square sail," and later, “a curved or convex part of a fore-and-aft sail extending beyond a straight line between any two of its three corners, especially on the leech side.”

By 1833 the verb applied to human hairstyling: “To brush or cut (hair) in a roach.”

By 1872, there was a noun: “A hairstyle in which the hair is brushed so as to stand up or sweep back from the face; a roll or wave of hair.”

The OED citations include a great sentence from Langston Hughes (1950): “Her head was all done fresh and shining with a hair-rocker roached up high in front.”

Related reading
Other word-of-the-day posts (Pinboard)

comments: 2

Elaine said...

Ernie Pyle also used the word in describing a GI he had met. As best I recall, he mentioned that the guy was handsome, with black hair that roached back... In _Brave Men,_ I believe.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for that, Elaine. So now we have Hughes, Maxwell, Pyle. The OED also has a Faulkner sentence. It feels like this word is everywhere.