or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Shiny Shiny

I was laminating something this evening at work, and as I was applying the lustre finish it naturally occurred to me to wonder whether "lustre" is related to "lustrum". It seemed pretty likely, but then there's the fact that "lustre" and "lust" are completely unrelated, so who knows?

It turns out that "lustrum" and "lustre" are, in fact, father and son. A lustrum is a purification ceremony which took place in ancient Rome every five years, after the census, and by extension a five-year period, just as a decade is a ten-year period. (If you didn't know English had a word for a half a decade, you're not alone, but isn't it a nice word to have?) "Lustre" (or, to use the American spelling, "luster") is derived from this: Latin derived a verb from "lustrum", that verb being "lustrare", "to make bright", which is a fairly logical step from the notion of purification. Italian "lustro" emerged from "lustrare", the French turned "lustro" into "lustre", and here we are.

It should be obvious upon looking at the word that "illustrate" is related to "lustre" as well. To illustrate, after all, means to clarify or illuminate--a very short trip on the metaphor bus from the original sense of "lustrum".

"Lust", you may or may not know, is from the Germanic: German still has the noun "Lust" (all nouns in German are capitalized), meaning "pleasure" or "desire", much milder than the seven-deadly-sins English version.


Blogger Frank said...

German Lust being milder than English lust is mirrored by German Angst (meaning just simple "fear") and the much more complicated English word angst. I wonder if "angst" is the English version of one of those "untranslateable" words. Do other languages have a word that captures the subtlety of "angst"?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006 10:01:00 PM  

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