• chevron •
shev-rahn • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A regular V-shaped pattern or an inverted one, like a circumflex (^). In the US military chevrons are usually referred to simply as "stripes".
Notes: Although English does not have diminutive nouns today, a small chevron is a chevronel. Chevronel was borrowed from French, which does still maintain these noun variants referring to smaller things. Of course, the double chevron is the logo of the Chevron Oil Corporation and the Citroën automobile, which once bore a huge double chevron on its grill.
In Play: The rank of private first class in the US Army is signified by a single chevron pointed upward. The next higher rank, corporal, is signified by two such chevrons: "Cal Apigian got his corporal's chevron for taking his tank out five times without running over anything of value." Chevron is sometimes used in the sense of "zigzag" since a zigzag looks like a line of chevrons: "The chevron wainscoting in Veronica's kitchen reminded Buck Private that he had never risen above the rank of his last name in the Army."
Word History: Today's Good Word was taken letter-for-letter from Old French, where chevron meant "a pair of angled roof rafters". Since this set of rafters looks like an inverted V, other inverted Vs came to be called chevrons. "So what do chevrons have to do with goats?" I hear someone muttering. Well, the word chevron shares the same ultimate source as French chèvre "goat", namely, Latin caper "goat". How were goats associated with angled roof rafters? Some think it is because goats stand with their legs slightly splayed in comparison to cows and horses. Maybe. The herb capers has never been related to goats, though the mischievous (even criminal) type of caper does come from the Latin goat word. (We might get Nancy Honeychuck's goat were we to forget to thank her for suggesting today's Good Word. So, we won't: thank you, Nancy.)