or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Two Down, Five to Go

Yesterday I talked about the word "sloth", and then I came across this posting about extending the Gay Pride parade to the other six deadly sins. Serendipity! (The end of June is when all the Gay Pride parades seem to happen; Moncton had its last weekend, and for all I know it was a smashing success, but with a population of maybe 120,000 in the Moncton/Dieppe/Riverview area, how big could the parade have been?)

"Pride" itself is, obviously, the noun form of "proud", and it has a very straightforward provenance: it's a simple shift in vowels, something that happens all the time in all languages as they evolve. In this case, it's long-"u" "prud", meaning "proud", into Middle English "pryde" and then into the modern spelling.

But wait a second. Long-"u" "prud"? Doesn't that look and sound like our modern word "prude"? Indeed it does, and that's precisely what it is. As far as anyone knows, the origin of "prude" is the word old French "prudhomme", which, yes, is a surname still in common currency, as in the chef Paul Prudhomme. "Prudfemme", the female equivalent, followed, and as we know, once a word is applied to a woman, it's going to be turned into something nasty. (As Miss Manners notes, look what happened to the once-respectable terms of address "Mistress" and "Madam": you will need to register to read the Washington Post, but it's worth it to read Miss Manners twice a week.) The "prude" in these words indicated a number of good things, wisdom and integrity among them, things one might well be proud of demonstrating, but "prudfemme" came to be disparaging--a woman who was a little too proud of being virtuous--and this is what the word now ineluctably means in English, despite the attempts of the ever more tedious Mary Daly to reclaim it.

In one of those flashes of insight that later turns out to be entirely wrong, I guessed that "prude" and "prudent" had a common root. No such luck. "Prudent" is a contraction of "provident", from the Latin "providere", "to provide for".


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