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If you like words you'll like The English is Coming by Leslie Dunton-Downer, a recent examination of the use and origin of thirty common English words. Dunton-Downer presents Global English as the malleable language that now belongs to all of us, and will doubtless transform significantly over the next few generations. The book is full of interesting little nuggets; among them is a graph showing how many more English speakers there are in China than in any other country in the world and a list of the words that will successfully flag you a taxi in fourteen different countries.
The most striking of the word stories for me is about the bikini. (But not because the weather is so terrible lately that all I can think about is the beach.) The famous swimsuit was named after the Bikini Atoll where the fourth nuclear weapon ever to be detonated was dropped.
On July 5th, 1946, just four days after the nuclear test on Bikini, the skimpy two-piece was released; there were newspaper headlines about the recent testing printed all over it. Talk about provocative fashion. Earlier that year, another designer had released a slim swimsuit called The Atom; so, the Bikini was going to "split the atom." Pretty clever word play. Two pieces, get it?
It took until the sixties for the popularity of the bikini to really explode, though (Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yello Polka Dot Bikini came out in 1960). Before then, it was prohibited in public.
I think my surprise was that I somehow hadn't fully drawn the connection between bikini-clad bombshells and this deliberate distruction until now. Wow.
The Bikini Atoll was entered into the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites on August 2010.