Oxford University Press Blog
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The Birth of Disco
Language takes some pretty interesting and occasionally surprising turns, especially when new words are coined. The word "disco" traces its roots from the Nazi occupation of Paris, where clubs first played records for patrons when live bands faced restrictions. The term was "discotheque" which originally related to "bibliotheque" as a record library.
When trendy bars and cafes continued to play records in the 1950s, the word was filtered and modified by the fashion world to describe the dress a woman would wear to such clubs. Eventually it came back as "disco" to describe the club and the music played there.
Excerpt: "New words often inspire a period of heady inventiveness during their first surge of popularity, and people were quick to play with discotheque. In America, where Parisian style dominated the haut monde, it was immediately compounded by the press, who raved about the European discotheque trend for discotheque dancing. The world of fashion was particularly taken, one newspaper coining a rare adjective to describe a racy see-through outfit as ‘definitely discotheque’.
Then, in the summer of 1964, a short sleeveless dress known as the discotheque dress enjoyed a brief craze. It was designed to allow freedom of movement while dancing (ideally in sultry Left Bank clubs), and for a brief moment, before the ‘nightclub’ sense of the word prevailed, the dress itself was simply called a discotheque:
1964 Oakland (California) Tribune 9 July The best little discotheque we have yet seen is in the Miss Troy collection.
Which raises the intriguing possibility that for a short time in the early sixties, women might have gone out to dance in discotheques wearing discotheques.
This curious double meaning is a good example of the sort of excited confusion that can attend the birth of a new word, when various usages jostle for attention. Adding to the mix was the coincidental shortening of discotheque to disco, so that the discotheque dress correspondingly slimmed down to both disco dress and disco—especially among the ‘fashion-hep’ (or ‘hip’)."