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Chain language

Q: I was delighted to meet you at the Port Washington Public Library on Long Island. I’m the knitting lady. I have a question about the old E. J. Korvette chain of discount department stores. I used to believe the name stood for the eight Jewish Korean War veterans who founded the chain. But I’ve read recently that this is a myth. What’s the story?

A: Hi, knitting lady, it was a real pleasure to see you, and the lovely sweater coat you knitted. And, yes, that business about E. J. Korvette and the Korean veterans is a myth.

The name actually combined the first initials of the two founders – Eugene Ferkauf and Joe Zwillenberg (or Swillenberg) – along with a respelling of “Corvette,” the naval term for a small, fast, lightly armed warship.

It’s an urban legend that the name stood for eight (or eleven) Jewish Korean War veterans. In fact, E. J. Korvette, which was in business from 1948 to 1980, was founded before the Korean conflict began.

Ferkauf, in his 1980 memoir Going Into Business: How to Do It by the Man Who Did It, explains the origin of the name this way:

“I had a name picked out for the store, E. J. Korvette. ‘E’ is for Eugene, my first name, and ‘J’ stands for Joe Swillenberg, my associate and my pal…. As for ‘Korvette,’ it was originally meant to be spelled with a ‘C’ after the Canadian marine sub-destroyer, simply because I thought the name had a euphonious ring. When it came time to register the name, we found it was illegal to use a naval class identity, so we had to change the spelling to ‘K’.”

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