What’s the origin of the term “polka dots”?

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Dear Cecil: Why do we call polka dots “polka” dots when all they really are, are dots? Curious, But Not Losing Too Much Sleep, aka Don Bogen, Dallas

Cecil replies:

Glad to see you’re keeping a sense of perspective about this, Don. Polka dots are a by-product of the immense popularity of polka dancing in the 19th century. There were polka jackets, polka hats, even polka gauze. Whether you were originally supposed to use these while engaged in polka-ing is not clear; more probably it was like the “radio” in Radio Flyer wagons — the inventor just wanted to bask in the penumbra of with-itness the word suggested. “Polka dots” does have the advantage of suggesting a pattern of dots, which the word “dots” alone does not.

Cecil Adams

Send questions to Cecil via cecil@straightdope.com.