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Straight Jacket

Updated: Feb 11, 2022

The daily correspondence, September 21, 2015—“John, so why IS it called a straight jacket?”

Dear Trish: Well, actually, it isn’t a “straight” jacket. At least not until recently, after so many people didn’t know that the actual term was “strait” jacket. “Strait,” in this instance, meant “to fit tightly.” (The Strait of Gibraltar, for instance, is a narrow passage of water; “dire straits” is a narrow, confining circumstance. Hence, strait jacket.) Begrudgingly, now, “straight jacket” is gradually becoming at least somewhat accepted. A careful writer (see: “fastidious”), however, probably wouldn’t use it. It helps here to recognize how democratic language is and, unlike most of us, it is ever-adaptive and forever changing.


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