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Trendy 'Pea coat' origin is a Dutch Treat

| Friday, June 26, 2015, 5:48 p.m.

Question: What is the derivation of “pea coat” for the U.S. Navy jacket? It's time I knew, because I was in the Seabees for a few years.

— Kaz Glista via email

Answer: During college, I worked one summer for two former World War II Seabees who ran a driveway paving business. Nice guys, but, wow, the work was hot and hard!

“Seabees,” of course, is a rendering of the abbreviation for “C.B.” (Construction Battalion), which explains why my bosses were so skilled with those backhoes.

That same summer, my younger sister acquired a pea coat, which was the height of hip, paramilitary/anti-war fashion during the Vietnam era.

A pea coat or pea jacket is a hip-length, heavy woolen double-breasted jacket originally worn by sailors. The terms “pea coat” and “pea jacket” have been around since the early 1700s.

Some contend that “pea coat” derives from the fact that new naval recruits wearing these jackets would often turn “pea green” from seasickness. Others say it comes from “p-coat,” with the “p” denoting “pilot,” the officer who steers a ship through a harbor.

But most etymologists agree that “pea coat” and “pea jacket” derive from the Dutch “pij-jakker,” a men's jacket made of coarse cloth (“pij”). But, of “coarse”!

Q.: This caption recently appeared in the newspaper: “Matt Merritt and Alyssa Coco, who compose Roses and Revolutions, are one of the opening acts for Osborne.” Should “compose” be “comprise”?

— Moreland Houck, Trenton, N.J.

A: I checked out the duo Roses and Revolutions online, where I enjoyed a nifty YouTube video/cartoon of their song “Take Me With You,” which I assume Matt and Alyssa composed.

And they also compose, not comprise, Roses and Revolutions. The newspaper got it right!

“Comprise” means “to include or be made up of,” e.g., “The duo comprises Matt and Alyssa.” “Compose” means “to constitute, make up,” e.g., “Matt and Alyssa compose the duo.”

Here's the standard rule: The parts compose the whole, and the whole comprises the parts. So several islands compose the state of Hawaii, and the state of Hawaii comprises several islands.

Understandably, people frequently misuse “compose” and “comprise.” Perhaps the most common mistake is using “comprised of” instead of “comprises” or “is composed of,” e.g., “The state of Hawaii is comprised of several islands.”

So if you're using “comprise” and “compose,” be careful. And if you're heading to Hawaii, take me with you!

Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Conn., invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via e-mail to Wordguy@aol.com or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 Third Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

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