To me, the word “toboggan” has always meant “sled.” If you search Google Images for “toboggan,” you’ll see what I mean. Pictures of long, narrow wooden sleds used for coasting downhill over the snow will appear. Toboggans typically curve upward and backward at the front.
So you can imagine my confusion as a transplant to North Carolina when I started hearing the word “toboggan” used to refer to a knit pull-on hat. I’m not alone. One of our recent guests at the Troy-Bumpas Inn Bed & Breakfast (who had also recently moved to the region) described her utter bewilderment when teachers at her child’s school said that all students going on an upcoming field trip should be sure to pack a toboggan. How, she wondered, were dozens of wooden toboggans going to fit onto the bus?
I’m told you’re most likely to hear “toboggan” used to describe a knit cap in North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The origin of this usage is uncertain, but it seems likely that knit hats worn while tobogganing were “toboggan caps.” At some point the word cap was dropped… and the rest is history.
So, the next time you head out into the cold, think of us here in North Carolina and grab your toboggan – it will keep you warm.