• ablution •
ê-blu-shên • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. Bathing or cleansing, or the liquid in which something is bathed. 2. Bathing the body as part of religious services. 3. Cleaning up the body in general. 4. (The ablutions) The bathroom, head, toilet (British military).
Notes: Today's Good Word is used so often in the plural that I almost listed it in the plural ablutions rather than the singular. The adjective is ablutionary. These words are derived from the verb ablute, rarely heard or seen today except as a past participle, as to appear for dinner immaculately abluted and attired.
In Play: The purpose of ablutions performed on a body before burial is to remove not only the dirt but any sins or evil spirits that might otherwise accompany the deceased to the other world. But my favorite use of this word is a substitute for toilette—bathing, brushing, combing—for it implies a religiously complete cleansing without raising the specter of toilet: "In the confusion of his morning ablutions, Jack Uzzi put his undershorts on backwards."
Word History: It is obvious from the looks of this word that it originates in Latin. This time it is Latin ablutio(n) from the past participle (ablutus) of abluere "to wash away". This verb is made up of ab "away" and luere "to wash", a verb related to lavare "to bathe". Although English has a word lave, borrowed from the French version of lavare, it is rarely used, though lavatory, which is based on the same root, is widely used in English. The same Proto-Indo-European root that became luere and lavare in Latin came via the Germanic language family to English as lather.
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