• lustration •
lês-tray-shên • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. Ceremonial purification, religious absolution of wrong-doing. 2. Purging undesirables from an organization in order to "purify" that organization; purgation.
Notes: I heard this archaic word this morning on NPR and it reminded me that we had published it as a Good Word. The Ukrainian parliament is rife with corruption, so they are planning a lustration. The member of that body who made the announcement was careful to avoid the word purge. English words based on luster generally imply starkly different matters. Luster itself refers to sheen or glistening. Illustrious refers to someone who shines in a different manner, even though the verb illustrate means "to provide pictures". Today's Good Word has wandered a bit off course. Lustration is the noun from lustrate "to purify, to cleanse". 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." Outside the church, however, it has become a euphemism for purge: "The Ukrainian parliament is planning a lustration of all its corrupt members." How successful the process will be depends on how deep the corruption runs.
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 luč' "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 and Grand Panjandrum of the Alpha Agora, Jeremy Busch.)