Parallel threads

Evan Zabawski | TLT From the Editor November 2017

From zap-zap to zip-zip.

The zap-zap of electrical discharge in a bearing causes a wear pattern named after the pants fabric that goes zip-zip when you walk.
Leibherr, taken from p. 269 of The Basic Handbook of Lubrication, Third Edition.

IN A RECENT CLASS I WAS TEACHING, STLE-member Jose Martinez asked me a question about a word he read in The Basic Handbook of Lubrication, Third Edition. As Spanish is his first language, he was having trouble pronouncing it correctly. The word was corduroying, referring to a form of bearing wear also known as corrugating or fluting.

As soon as I said the word out loud, he recognized what it was and asked me if there was a day called Corduroy Day, celebrated on Nov. 11. I said I did not know, but that he had piqued my interest and that I would look it up on my phone. Sure enough, Jose was right. According to an article in the New Yorker, a man named Miles Rohan founded the Corduroy Appreciation Club many years ago and held its first meeting on Nov. 11, 2005, “because 11/11 is the date that most resembles corduroy,” according to Rohan. The club once boasted 3,400 members and even sported its own membership cards and Website; their symbol is a whale, a homonym of wale—the raised part of corduroy fabric.

After recounting what the said article to Jose, I told him that he just gave me my idea for this month’s TLT article, because I love sharing quirky bits of trivia with both TLT readers and students alike. Every instructor has his or her own style, and mine seems to have migrated to peppering the dialogue with fun factoids to help make key points a little more memorable, and the odder the factoid the better.

Returning to our trivia: The New Yorker article was recounting this meeting where Chris Lindland, creator of Cordarounds (horizontal corduroy pants) had flown in from San Francisco to give the keynote presentation to roughly 100 guests. An oral history lesson was given by Betsy Franjola, the fabric manager for Karl Lagerfeld.

This meeting sounded like a dream come true for me, because apparently Franjola not only spoke about the etymology (one of my favorite subjects) of the word corduroy but also of the competing claims to its true source (and I love controversial history). For those who are interested, some claim that the term comes from 17th-Century France, where corde du roi means the king’s cloth. Others claim it is from 13th-Century Manchester, nicknamed Cottonopolis (you can’t make this stuff up).

Not only that, but an award for Exemplary Usage of Corduroy was bestowed upon Vahram Mateosian, film director Wes Anderson’s tailor of his signature corduroy suits. (Now the evening was topped off with a pop culture reference; I don’t know how I could have contained myself.) Mateosian had outfitted many of the actors in Anderson’s 2001 The Royal Tenenbaums, as well.

Apparently the evening ended with Rohan announcing that the next meeting would be held on Jan. 11, as it was the date that second-most resembled corduroy. Six years later, Rohan would host a sold-out Corduroy Day on 11/11/11, a date that so closely resembled corduroy that it made sense to also make it the last meeting of the club.

I am quite pleased to have discovered this new piece of trivia. In the future, when I am explaining how a piece of rotating equipment suffering from current leakage under full fluid film lubrication produces repeating grooves, and that these grooves can be referred to as corduroying, I can spice it up with a quick segue to a brief history of the Corduroy Club.

So as we close in on the next unofficial Corduroy Day, mark it by remembering that the zap-zap of electrical discharge in a bearing causes a wear pattern named after the pants fabric that goes zip-zip when you walk.

Evan Zabawski, CLS, is the senior technical advisor for TestOil in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. You can reach him at