Is It Straitjacket Or Straightjacket?

Having your arms strapped down is not something many of us submit to voluntarily. But when it does happen, is the garment in question a straitjacket or a straightjacket?

Straitjacket picture from Shutterstock

In my customarily dismissive fashion, I've always argued that 'straitjacket' is the correct spelling, reflecting as it does the sense of 'straiten' meaning to restrict. That said, the word 'straight' is much more common, so it's unsurprising that 'straightjacket' also pops up a lot. Indeed, it has now been used so often that the Macquarie recognises that both spellings are acceptable:

straitjacket a kind of coat for confining the arms of violently insane persons, etc. Also, straightjacket.

(Side note: I refer to the Macquarie Dictionary as an authority for Australian usage, but I don't think it's perfect when it comes to defining meaning. The use of 'etc' here adds nothing to the definition.)

Conflicting forces often influence language. You can maintain that 'strait' is the more logical prefix (as I did), but if 'straight' becomes the more accepted spelling, we have to roll with that change. Right now, we're in a transitional phase. As long as you're consistent and don't use both spellings in a single document, you'll be fine.

Final point: whichever spelling you favour, it's a single word. Don't write 'strait jacket' or 'straight jacket'.

Lifehacker's Mind Your Language column offers bossy advice on improving your writing.


    "The use of ‘etc’ here adds nothing to the definition."

    Well, in three short letters it adds that straitjackets are used to confine:
    - violently insane persons
    - and others.

    How would you do this more quickly and neatly?

      Well, for starters 'etc' means 'and so on', not 'and others'. In any case, it's not clear to me that there are any other major use cases for straitjackets.

        Well, for starters 'etc' means 'and so on', not 'and others'.

        No. It has both meanings.

          Yep. Pretty sure it means both. And it totally adds to the definition, because without the etc, it would say that they can ONLY be used on the violently insane, when in reality, they can be used on Mel Gibson as well. But he'll just dislocate his shoulder and get out in 2 ticks. Then call you sugartits.

          Technically no - et cetera is Latin for 'and the rest', nicked from the Greek 'and the remainder'. Et cetera implies a list has been started but you were to lazy to write all the list items down and you assume the reader knows what the rest are.

          'And others' has it's own Latin version which is 'et al', so while they are similar in meaning, they aren't the same at all.

      Straitjackets can be a very exciting addition to BDSM play, sometimes more exciting than a number of classic roped positions. Mind you there is a lot to be said for the Japanese art of Shibari, which I personally prefer over classic and enhanced straitjacket designs.

      One could guess this helps Angus' use of etc.

      But I shall never forget the words of my fourth grade teacher who suggested etc. meant pink elephant were included.

    Knowing how to spell this correctly was driving me insane!

    Google straitjacket: 2,890,000 results
    Google Straightjacket: 3,550,000 results

    Straightjacket wins

    They don't use them anymore, so I have never felt the need to learn the right spelling.

    I've always thought that it was a truncation of restraint-jacket

    As a professional magician and escapologist, I can definitively say that the correct spelling is "Straitjacket".
    The etymology of the word "Strait" comes from old English and it means narrow or restricted, as in Bass Strait and Dire Straits. It originally came from the latin "Strictus". The connection is obvious.
    The word straight means undeviating, and has not relation at all to the word straitjacket.
    Just because millions of people misspell the word does not mean it is correct.
    As an aside, "strait" is the correct word to use when describing someone as being conservative, as in being strait or hip. It means to be narrow-minded. I don't think I have ever seen that one used correctly.

      "Just because millions of people misspell the word does not mean it is correct."

      Except it does, at least in English. Because the language has no central authority, the definition of words comes from widespread accepted usage rather than etymology. It's why English dictionaries are descriptive rather than prescriptive, in contrast to languages that do have central authorities, such as French.

      Last edited 19/02/13 11:38 am

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