Because of the celebrations for the
Silver Diamond Jubilee going on at the moment in the UK we have had a surfeit of bunting. Rather surprisingly, I remember the exact occasion I first heard this word. We were driving along with a friend of the family and she said: “Look at all the bunting!”. I had to ask her what she meant. I was thirteen at the time. I was quite pleased with myself when I made the connection with the German word bunt (“parti-coloured”). I had started learning German the year before. I suppose I never bothered to check my surmise. Now I find I may well have been mistaken.
The OED says:
‘An open-made worsted stuff, used for making flags’ (Ure Dict. Arts); also in general, a flag, or flags collectively.
and tells us that an alternative form is buntine. The etymology is uncertain, but may be connected to the dialect form bunt of the word boult or bolt, which means to sift. So bunting may have originally been open-weave cloth used for sifting flour and the like.
However, my original surmise still has a chance. One of the quotations in the OED is:
1836 Scenes Comm. by Land & S. 235 Buntine is a thin open sort of woollen stuff‥it is woven in stripes, blue, white, red.
and the etymology for the word includes the comment:
The fact mentioned in quot. 1836 at main sense would suggest connection with German bunt, Dutch bont parti-coloured.
Of course these days bunting is usually made of nasty plastic.
Now worsted is an interesting word…
Photo credit: Amanda Slater. Used under this licence.