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Word of the Week: ‘kimono’


We take a closer look at the words and phrases that are trending online and in the media. This week: ‘kimono’

Social media star and businesswoman Kim Kardashian West has been accused of cultural appropriation after naming – and seeking trademark for – her new shapewear brand ‘Kimono’. While Kim hasn’t quite broken the internet this time, the star’s unfortunate play on words has got her into hot water on the Twittersphere and provided her opponents with the perfect fodder for a viral hashtag: #KimOhNo.

Following the backlash – which saw the Mayor of Kyoto, Japan condemn her attempts to commodify the word – Kardashian West has now pulled her plan to name her brand of spanx-like, skin-coloured underthings ‘kimono’.

What is the meaning of ‘kimono’?

The noun is described by the Cambridge Dictionary as: “a long, loose piece of outer clothing with very wide sleeves, traditionally worn by the Japanese.”

Other dictionary definitions today describe a ‘kimono’ as “a woman’s loose dressing gown” but originally it was a unisex garment worn by men, women and children of all classes in Japan.

In Japanese, ‘Ki’ translates as ‘wearing’ and ‘mono’ means ‘thing’. Together? “The thing worn.” Simples.

In our quest for etymological titbits, we turn to the ‘kimono’ experts. Anna Jackson, a specialist in Japanese textiles and dress at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, explains that:

“For most of the garment’s history it was actually referred to as a ‘kosode’, meaning “small sleeves”. The term ‘kimono’ appeared in documented sources in as early as the 13th century but wasn’t used widely until the late 19th century.”

She adds that, “as a form of clothing, it has also had a major impact on dress styles in the west.” 

Or, in this case, on a West.

Fast forward to the late 1980s and the word evolved from its strictly sartorial sense and was adopted into business lexicon in the western world. The (slightly creepy) phrase ‘to open the kimono’ means: “to reveal what is being planned or share important information freely.” 

The Urban Dictionary takes the word in another direction, emphasising that if something is ‘kimono’, it is: “EXTREMELY CHILL” (yes, all caps necessary). 

We can only wait to see what Kim’s next attempt at wordplay will bring, especially if, as one Twitter user emphasises, she simply “chose a word that had Kim in it.”

As long as she doesn’t name her new lingerie line ‘kimando’, then it can’t get any worse.

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Roisin McCormack