World Wide Words logo


Pronounced /ˌleɪbrɪˈtɪfərɪ/Help with IPA

This rare word for the practice of wearing labrets just might be on the point of a renewed burst of usage because of the craze for body piercing.

A labret, from the Latin for “lip”, is an ornament worn through the upper or lower lip, originally used in reference to several South American, African and other peoples who wore such ornaments (often of stone, gold, or rock crystal). It seems to have been coined around 1884 by the American scientist Dr William Healey Dall, the first man to make a systematic exploration of the then new US territory of Alaska. A later appearance of the word name-checks him:

But Eskimo women, in company with their husbands, had a more barbarous fashion than tattooing, called by Dall “labretifery.” So far as is known, it was practised only by those living west of the Mackenzie River; indeed, the habit prevailed much more widely among the men.

Women of all Nations, by Thomas Athol Joyce and Northcote Whitridge Thomas, 1942.

Labretifery combines labret with Latin fer–, to carry, bring, or bear, plus the abstract noun suffix “–y”.

Page created 7 Mar. 1998

Support World Wide Words and keep this site alive.

Donate by selecting your currency and clicking the button.

Buy from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you. Select a site and click Go!

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved. See the copyright page for notes about linking to and reusing this page. For help in viewing the site, see the technical FAQ. Your comments, corrections and suggestions are always welcome.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved.
This page URL:
Last modified: 7 March 1998.