In Spanish a mitón is ‘a type of glove that leaves the extremities of the fingers exposed.’ Gloves of that sort are helpful for people who want some protection from the elements but who need to maintain the dexterity that fingertips provide. (One sort of wearer that comes to mind is a nature photographer in winter.)

The fact that a mitón is a kind of glove makes an English speaker think of the word mitten, even if a mitten fully covers a hand. Might there nevertheless be a connection between the two words? It turns out that Spanish took its word straight from French miton (French stresses an isolated word on its last syllable, by the way), so we have turn Gallic for a bit. French miton was based on the Old French mite that meant ‘glove’ and that generated, with a different suffix, the mitaine that means the same as Spanish mitón. English borrowed mitaine as mitten, whose sense shifted to that of a glove that still dealt with different parts of the hand in distinct ways, but now with the distinction being between the thumb and the other four fingers collectively.

Many etymologists assume that the French mite which by itself and through its derivatives referred to gloves is the same mite that French-speaking children use as an alternate name for a cat, the idea being that a glove or mitten is as soft as a cat’s fur.

English mitt, by the way, arose as a shortened form of mitten.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Playamart - Zeebra Designs
    Nov 12, 2016 @ 11:00:08

    Interesting… thanks for the lesson! — i liked the clematis image today as well…

    am in jama with on/off internet, but at least they have it back!


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Nov 12, 2016 @ 11:54:21

      You’re welcome for both.

      They may have their Internet back in Jama, but do they have j(íc)ama in Jama? Or if Jama gets large enough it’ll turn into Jamón.


      • Playamart - Zeebra Designs
        Nov 12, 2016 @ 12:38:59

        I think they DO have jicama in Jama; when in town I’ll check the market and see if they’re in season… I forget right now what they call jicama…

        Ha – or should I say ‘Ja!’ in regards to the Jamón. or Jamóncito!

        Jama’s name comes from the pre-Colombian Indians and their word for ‘Iguana…’


        • Steve Schwartzman
          Nov 12, 2016 @ 12:52:52

          My first reaction was that people there would call it jícama, but then I realized that that word is from the language of the Aztecs, and in South America the plant could have a different name (like palta instead of aguacate, or the one you mentioned, jama for iguana).


  2. shoreacres
    Nov 12, 2016 @ 19:50:29

    Just think how many kittens have been named Mittens, precisely because their coloration suggests they’re wearing mittens on their paws.

    I thought of three other someones who profit from the mitón. One is the rock or ice climber, who needs a glove that will stand up to rappelling and belaying lines, but who needs fingertip control on the rock face.

    Another is the sailor, who uses such gloves for belaying lines while under way.

    Finally, there’s the varnisher in winter, who makes use of rock climbers’ mitóns to keep her hands warm, while allowing finger flexibility for sandpaper and brush.

    I still grieve that Patagonia stopped selling their fleece mitóns with soccer-ball-leather palms. They really were splendid.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Nov 12, 2016 @ 22:51:52

      That’s a coincidence: we saw Patagonia quilted jackets for sale in Costco this afternoon. Eve ended up buying something along those lines but much less expensive.

      Those are good additional examples you came up with for people, including yourself, who profit from the mitón.

      Naming kittens Mittens also takes advantage of rhyme.


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©2011–2018 Steven Schwartzman

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