Friday, May 19, 2006

Things I Learned Today About "Rain Parkas"

In my law school classes, I am often learning things from my students. Legal education is really a great enterprise for this reason. When you put together a group of interesting and bright people and start asking questions, you are bound to come up with some new perspectives on the world. This presents the possibility of something new every time we meet.

One of our cases today involved a dispute among partners about the obligations they owe to one another over new business opportunities. One of the litigants wanted to sell "rain parkas", but his partners nixed the idea. A "rain parka" struck me as an odd product indeed. In my mind, a parka is a heavy coat designed for cold weather - usually lined with fur or, perhaps in more modern versions, with some material with similar insulating properties. If you are wearing a parka, chances are you aren't worried about rain - you are worried about snow and ice.

And when I google the term parka, among the first entries is the "parka pages", which feature cold people standing in snow with a sports car with a T-Top in the background. You can check out their site here:
(Apparently if you wear these warm outfits, you can comfortably get your Corvette stuck off the road in a snow drift. But I would advise people not to try this at home. And I would also tell the woman in this picture to either wear a hat or put her hood up before she catches cold.)

But of course, some of my students tell me this is not what a rain parka means at all. They say a rain parka is something you wear with a hood, and it keeps you dry. It has nothing to do with fur or insulation. Since the partnership was in Oregon, then it make perfect sense to sell that to camping folks. But to my mind, this is a rain coat. Others chimed in that this was not a parka, it is a poncho. But then again, a poncho is not supposed to have arms, is it?

One of my very bright students (whom I will identify as Ms. D) sent me this website to confirm her views about the existence and commercial viability of rain parkas:,OLY-CL215P-3.html
As she points out in her lean and accurate comment: "No fur."

Of course, just because we find a website does not mean it contains the truth. After all, there could be a vast conspiracy of people hijacking the term parka for commercial exploitation, and thereby deprecating the content of our language. So I had to go to Merriam Webster to see what they say in this situation:

"Etymology: Aleut, from Russian dialect, ultimately from Nenets (Samoyedic language of northern Russia)1 : a hooded fur pullover garment for arctic wear2 : a usually lined fabric outerwear pullover or jacket."

Darn - they had to put that term "usually" in the second definition. So, I learned something new. Thanks to Ms. D for the new perspective. But I still think if you are in Alaska or Siberia and you call the yellow raincoat you are wearing a "parka", they will laugh to themselves and know that you aren't from there.

Happy Friday to all.

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