frock off

This morning one of the segments in the textbook was on collocations with get, one of which was get married. As an example, I showed a photo of my wife and me on our wedding day. Various students said ‘How beautiful’ about her and ‘How handsome’ about me, then the student from Italy asked ‘Are you wearing a …?’ something that sounded like /frɒk/. I certainly wasn’t wearing a frock, so I quickly searched for images of ‘frock coat’, but I wasn’t wearing one of those, and that’s not what he meant anyway. He tried again and it sounded more like /flæk/, but I certainly wasn’t wearing a flak jacket. There was only a limited number of possibilities: the first sound was /f/, the second was /r/ or /l/, the third was /ɒ/ or /æ/ and the fourth was /k/ or /g/, and it wasn’t frock, flock, flak or flag. I continued with the lesson, and fortunately he found frac, which I certainly wouldn’t have figured, but which is the perfectly good Italian word for ‘morning dress, white tie and tails’ (Wiktionary). I was wearing a tail coat, but with a black tie. I don’t naturally use the term morning dress. (Among other things, it has always sounded too much like mourning dress. I remember my father referring to the funeral director wearing morning dress for an afternoon funeral.)

Frock comes from Old French. The word dates from the 14th century, but the garment(s) referred to have changed over the years. In English, a frock is (most commonly) a girl’s or woman’s dress, (less commonly) a peasant’s smock, a monk’s outer garment (the origin of a priest being defrocked) or a frock coat, but I wouldn’t call a frock coat a frock, I would call it a frock coat. Cognate words are used in other Western European languages: ‘the modern word for a dress coat in Italian, French, Romanian and Spanish is frac; in German Frack; and Portuguese fraque’ (Wikipedia), but a dress coat is not the same thing as a frock coat. Indeed, as I researched this post, the more confusing the terminology for formal menswear became.

For a moment, I thought the student said frack, which is not right either, either in terms of hydraulic fracturing or the science fiction substitute for the f-word. (Wikipedia reports that one protest group in the USA combines those meaning in its name: Frack Off.)

The textbook grouped the various usages of get into three groups: receive, buy/obtain and become. Getting married is actually becoming married (in the sense that you weren’t before and were after someone performed the required speech act), except that no-one ever says that. But maybe they do. The chamber choir I sing in sang for a wedding on Saturday morning. In his sermon, the priest said that an elderly parishioner, on his 50th wedding anniversary, said to him something like: ‘You don’t ‘get’ married – you ‘become’ married. You start on your wedding day, but the whole thing takes years. In fact, it’s still happening.’


5 thoughts on “frock off

  1. There’s a joke amongst German-learners (/Germans learning English) about the words “to become” and “bekommen”, the latter of which means “to get”. I remember one girl in my class telling me about a cousin who had been practicing his English on her one Christmas and excitedly told her, “I became a dog!”


  2. Pingback: get divorsed | Never Pure and Rarely Simple

  3. What is the origin of German bekommen? As far as I understand, English become originated as ‘come to be’. As far as I can figure, German bekommen means ‘come by’. (In fact, in English, we can say things like ‘I came to be rich and famous’ or ‘I came by a small fortune’.)


    • I don’t know – I just learnt the words. I think both languages started with “komen”/”to come” and then added prefixes and other words to it to make various meanings… most of the time when this happens, the prefix sounds don’t overlap, but it can be confusing when they do as the meaning rarely overlaps. I can’t think of another German verb with the prefix “be-” off-hand, though.


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