Thursday, February 28, 2013


lave [leɪv] v. t.

1.) To wash, bathe.
2.) Of a river, a body of water: To wash against, to flow along or past.
3.) To pour out with or as with a ladle; to ladle. Also absolute. Construed with in, into, on, upon.

lave [leɪv] v. i.

1.) To bathe, lit. and fig. (Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition).

Etymology: Two distinct formations appear to have coalesced—(1) Old English had lafian, to wash by affusion, to pour (water), corresponding formally to Middle Dutch, Dutch laven, Old High German labôn (Middle High German, modern German laben), to refresh; cf. Old High German laba, modern German labe, refreshment. By some scholars the Old English, Dutch, and German words are considered to represent a West German adoption of Latin lavāre, to wash. This view involves some difficulty, as the numerous Old High German examples refer to refreshment by food, drink, or warmth, so that the assumed primary sense 'to wash', if it ever existed, must have been quite forgotten. The Latin origin, however, accounts well for the senses of the Old English word, which perhaps may be only accidentally similar in form to the continental words. (2) In Middle English the representative of the Old English verb blended indistinguishably with the verb adopted from French laver from Latin lavāre = Gr. λούειν, from Old Aryan root lou-, to wash (whence lather).

"And I am seized by long-unwonted yearning
For that domain of spirits calm and grave,
To tenuous notes my lisping song is turning,
Like Aeol's harp it fitfully would wave,
A shudder grips me, tear on tear is burning,
With softening balm the somber heart they lave;
What I possess I see as from a distance,
And what has passed, to me becomes existence."
(Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, William Arndt (trans.), 1976)

(Diane et Actéon, Jean-Baptiste Corot, 1836)


Debra She Who Seeks said...

Hey, I knew this one cuz I speak French in a half-assed kind of way!

Bibi said...

This had me confused, since the "laven" that I know doesn't have anything to do with bathing. So what does that mean? That the Old High German language strayed from the path Old English chose to stay on/chose to return to?

Ah, I kind of expected to see a Susannah and the Elder here. For some reason, I've always been kind of fascinated with the topos. Better luck next time!

Jenny Woolf said...

I have always assumed it came from the French "se laver". The Normans introduced many Latinate words which can best be described as "genteel" during their occupation. For instance one might eat "porc" rather than "swine" or "hog" or "boeuf" rather than "cow."

As the modern English use of "lave" is also rather genteel, I have always assumed that this was a Norman introdudtion. I bet "wash," the common word, came from German or Norse or something.

Well that's what I think although I have not ever checked it, so of course it is very possible that I am completely wrong.

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