“Bikini” sure doesn’t sound like a French word, but Jeopardy! informs Instagram followers that the swimsuit does indeed come from La République. Simply a two-piece bathing suit, its creator, Louis Réard, certainly didn’t think it would become a staple to modern women’s summer wear when he first composed the idea.
Whether his intention was to start a new fashion craze or another less innocent reason, Réard’s invention is a part of almost every woman’s wardrobe.
In Jeopardy!’s recent Instagram post, the show announced that today is the anniversary of the invention. Created in 1946, the bikini is now 75 years old—that’s older than most people wearing them! (Although, we encourage anyone to strut what they got, no matter the age.)
‘Jeopardy! Explains Explosive Inspiration Behind the Name
Even more surprising than the origin of the bikini is the inspiration for its name. According to Jeopardy’s Instagram post, Réard named his invention after Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
The atoll, or ring-shaped coral reef, was the site of U.S. nuclear testing between the mid-1940s and early 1960s. In fact, bomb testing on the island began the same year that Réard released his invention. Since the testing came on the cusp of the end of World War II, the nation’s military thought it necessary to be prepared with nuclear weapons if another attack occurred. The U.S. tested a total of 20 nuclear devices on Bikini and surrounding Atolls. Some radioactivity is still present there today.
Although Jeopardy doesn’t say why the island or name inspired Réard’s bathing suit, we have our own speculation.
Because the atoll is ring-shaped and missing the inside section of land, we imagine that this inspired Réard to remove the midsection of the standard one-piece women’s swimsuit. But again, that’s just our hypothesis.
Game Show Explains Etymology of ‘Bikini’
Lastly, Jeopardy! also shares a fascinating tidbit about the etymology of bikini. Before knowing that its creator named the swimsuit after a radioactive island, you might have thought it was French for two-piece since “bi” is a Latin prefix meaning “two.” In fact, many people still think that’s what “bikini” breaks down into. However, the etymology of the word is just about as random as its name’s inspiration.
As it turns out, Jeopardy! reports with the help of MentalFloss, the two main components of the word are “bik” and “ni.” The show reported that “bik” likely comes from “pik,” which in the language local to the Marshall Islands means “surface.” “Ni” then translates to “coconut.”
That’s right. Surface coconut.
Perhaps if you were attending a luau and wearing a coconut bra and grass skirt, this meaning might be fitting. Otherwise, if you refer to bikinis as “surface coconuts,” you might offend someone.
So, while we enjoyed Jeopardy!’s summer-themed fun fact, it may be a good idea to stick with the original misconception that the word means “two-piece.”