Many words have meanings commonly accepted today but of unknown origin. I may have stumbled upon one such: pure
For example, look at the Online Etymology Dictionary's
take on "purify":
c.1300, "free from spiritual pollution," from O.Fr. purifier (12c.), from L. purificare "to make pure," from purus "pure" (see pure) + root of facere "to make" . . . . Meaning "free from extraneous matter" is recorded from c.1440. . . . (Emphasis mine)
Interestingly, the next entry below "purify" is defecate
1575, "to purify," from L. defæcatus, pp. of defæcare "cleanse from dregs, purify," from the phrase de fæce "from dregs," pl. fæces "feces. . . ."
Some recent reading suggests the two definitions may be more alike than we would like to think. Remember, folks, many words in our randomly-gleaned junk pile of a language predate printing, coming from the tradespeople who, though extremely competent at their lives and the tasks that professionally occupied them, never read or wrote a word. The words they used were eventually written, but often only after being filtered through the author's zeitgeist
. For example, since many of the writers in the Middle Ages were monks, words tended to be filtered religiously. A monk might, for example, take a word known well to the common people and use it poetically to impart a religious lesson or image.
"Pure-finders" in London refer not to those of a religious bent, but on people who collect dog turds, or "pieces of pure," and sell these to leather tanners:
The pure collected is used by leather-dressers and tanners. . . . The dung has astringent as well as highly alkaline, or, to use the expression of my informant, "scouring," qualities. When the pure has been rubbed into the flesh and grain of the skin (the "flesh" being originally the interior, and the "grain" the exterior part of the cuticle), and the skin, thus purified, has been hung up to be dried, the dung removes, as it were, all such moisture as, if allowed to remain, would tend to make the leather unsound or imperfectly dressed."
Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor, New York: Penguin, 1985, p. 143 (the articles comprising the book were compiled in book form first in 1851).
Here we see pure -- again, bits of dog shit -- used to purify the skins not religiously, but to make them "free from extraneous matter." "This is done to 'purify' the leather, I was told by an intelligent leatherdresser, and from that term the word 'pure' has originated," the quoted source specifies.
I don't know. Sure, in English "pure" as a piece of poop might reflect its part in leather purification; but what of "purify?" Leather tanning has been around a hell of a lot longer than most religions today. Perhaps the purity of the skins predated the purity of the soul. I find some comfort in realizing that the monks might have borrowed a term from the tanners, just as the word "test"
came from metal workers and a glass lens
refers to nothing more lofty than its shapely resemblance to a bean.
Of course, what other conclusion can one expect from the Peristaltic Testator?