Academy Award-winning actress Nicole Kidman has described herself as a towhead. “When I was a child, I was a natural towhead,” the 43-year-old Australian-American thespian said.
What is a towhead?
Ask Mark Twain’s classic literary figure Huckleberry Finn to describe a towhead, and you would receive this quotable response: “A towhead is a sandbar that has cottonwoods on it as thick as harrow teeth” (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, chapter 12).
Huck Finn’s explanation of a towhead may be true, particularly among those living along America’s Mississippi River, but the term carries an altogether different meaning for most folks.
What is the meaning of the popular phrase, “towheaded”?
Today, towheaded is a description of light blonde hair, and a towhead is an individual possessing such fair straw-like locks.
Although a truly towheaded person would likely have strikingly light locks, the “towhead” term may also be used more loosely to describe those with ash blonde, bleached blonde, dirty blonde, dishwater blonde, flaxen blonde, golden blonde, honey blonde, light blonde, platinum blonde, sandy blonde, strawberry blonde, white blonde or otherwise blonde hair.
A redhead, brunette or other dark-haired person would not be considered towheaded – at least, not without the assistance of artificial hair coloring.
Usually, only those individuals with natural blonde tresses may be accurately called towheaded. In other words, an authentically towheaded person is having more than a blonde moment.
The term “towheaded” is considered to be slang usage, most commonly used to describe blonde children, and particularly light-haired youngsters with tousled or uncombed locks.
What is the origin of the popular phrase, “towheaded”?
The first recorded mentions of the term “towheaded” seem to be found Colonial American times, although the word may have appeared far earlier.
Basically, towheadedness indicated that a light-haired individual’s tresses resembled coarse, organic and unwoven flax fibers known as tow. This flax, most often made from hemp fibers, was prepared for spinning into yarn or wool. The natural fibers were soaked in water for many days before they were extracted from the hemp stocks and prepared for spinning.
In fact, the Old English word “tow” actually referred to the process of spinning such fibers, as well as to the fibers themselves.
Undyed tow was pale in color, appearing much like a light blonde head of hair.
Of course, a towheaded person’s light blonde hair would also resemble the pale sand deposits that one might find on a towhead sandbar, such as that described by Mark Twain’s Huck Finn.
In some instances, the word “towheaded” may also be spelled “toe headed,” although is usage is considerably less common.