launder

I used to read Ann Landers. But I didn’t like seeing people air their dirty linen. Oh la la – you do not publish la underwear in le newspaper; you launder wear such as lingerie in the laundry. You do not want to moon Landers! Better to keep your short subject sweet and clean and smelling of lavender.

Have you ever noticed, by the way, how much lingerie sounds like laundry? Since it’s from linge, French for “linen”, and is related to fair la linge, “do the laundry” (literally “do the linen”), it would seem reasonable for laundry to be a modification of lingerie and for launder to be a backformation from it.

Reasonable, but false! In fact, launder is the older word, though laundry comes not so much directly from launder as from an earlier word that was derived from the earlier word that launder evolved from. And what did launder evolve from? As it happens, lavender.

But wait – there’s more. The lavender that launder comes from is not the lavender of fresh bathroom scents or Estée Lauder. No, this lavender comes from French lavandier, which comes from Latin lavandarius. The Latin meant “thing to be washed”, but by the time it hit English it meant “person who washes things”. Yes, launder was first a noun for someone who washes clothes. Then, after that, it was converted to a verb meaning “wash clothes” (yup, it was verbed – linguistic reactionaries, commence shuddering). And the derived lavendry became laundry.

Meanwhile, that lavender you smell was for a long time thought to be related to the Latin word for washing – after all, it is a fresh and clean scent, n’est-ce pas? But its source, Latin lavendula, appears to have come from livendula, not a lav- washing-related root. Its later form was quite likely influenced by the washing word, though.

My, the things that come out in the wash! But what, by the way, do we launder nowadays? Well, to look at the most common collocation of launder, it would seem to be money – specifically drug money or drug profits. Hm! I guess it’s true what they say about filthy lucre. Maybe all those drug kingpins should just come clean.

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