A recent ADS-L discussion on the meaning of the word khaki (apparently it is shifting from tan or dun color to mean green) prompted this entry. Khaki is Urdu meaning dusty; khak means dust. It was brought into English via the colonization of India. The word first appears in English in the latter half of the 19th century, in reference to the color of army uniforms. From a 21 July 1857 letter by an H.B. Edwardes:
The whole of the troops here are dressed in khâkee.
Within a few decades, the word was being applied to a type of cloth of that color from which uniforms were made. From E.S. Bridges’ 1879 Round the World in 6 Months:
The troops here are dressed in khaki...It is a kind of strong brown holland, and appears to me to be made of flax.
By the end of the century, khaki was being used to denote a soldier. From an 1899 appearance in Modern Newspaper:
Before daylight the Khakis were at them again.
And from the 5 January 1900 Yorkshire Herald:
Are you...going to...vote solid for our Government? Or may I put it in another way,...will you vote khaki?
(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)
Copyright 1997-2013, by David Wilton