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lustration

Printable Version Pronunciation: lês-tray-shên Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: Ceremonial purification, religious absolution of wrong-doing.

Notes: English words based on luster are difficult to keep straight. Luster is a sheen, glowing, or glistening. Unsurprisingly, lustrous means "shining, glowing". Illustrious, however, refers to someone or something outstanding even though the verb illustrate means "to provide pictures". Today's Good Word only adds to the confusion. Lustration is the noun from lustrate "to purify, absolve of sins". It cannot be used to refer to light in any way. The adjective is lustrative, as a lustrative ceremony.

In Play: Most religions provide some method of lustration: "My priest told me that he had performed confessional lustrations on some of the most illustrious sinners in the nation." Today's word may also be used outside the church but it doesn't stretch very far figuratively: "Henry, you forget our anniversary every year; no amount of lustration could wash that stain from your character!"

Word History: The verb underlying today's Good Word was taken from Latin lustratus, the past participle of lustrare "to brighten, examine, purify". The root of this verb word was originally leuk- "bright, light", which became Russian luch "ray, beam". It also underlies Latin lux "light", actually pronounced [luk-s], the -s being the nominative singular ending. In the Germanic languages it is usually accompanied by the suffix -t, as in German Licht "light" and English light. The ancient association of darkness with evil led to the metaphorical use of this verb in religious rites in the sense of casting out evil, breaking up spiritual darkness, and thence the meaning of "to purify". (Now it is time to cast some light on the contributor of today's Good Word; it was our old friend of the Alpha Agora, Jeremy Busch.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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