Why be an editor, or an organizer, or even a bricoleur, when you can be a curator?

What does a curator do? Why, curates, of course. Which means – now – select and arrange and present. What things? Texts, precious artifacts, artworks, perhaps even parties by now. (I just checked and yes.) It is a seemingly popular title just at the moment. Curator is a prestige position, one that bespeaks museums and galleries; it is at the upper end of the job ladder that is being held at its bottom rungs by the caretaker.

You just know what I’m about to tell you, don’t you: curator comes from Latin for ‘caretaker’ – the agentive –ator onto cura (noun) and curare (verb) ‘care’, which is the source of all our cure words (our care words, on the other hand, are etymologically related only way back at the Proto-Indo-European). That doesn’t mean that a curator is the same as what we now call a caretaker, of course, but a curator takes care to carefully take things and present them and care for them. It does mean that curate is (like edit, from editor) a backformation – curator came first, and the original related verb was cure, but that has shifted in sense.

But it may still make sense. A curator assembles or receives assorted works, like sick souls into a ward to be cured. And they will be cured, by being concretized together (cement cures into concrete) and by being preserved (you know what cured meats are, don’t you? hams and such like?). They can thus, if properly handled, be solid and tasty. But watch out: although curare ‘care’ is not related to curare the poison – a strychnine used on arrow tips by the Macusi of Guyana, who called it wurali, which was somewhat mutated in the transmission by Europeans – poor or confused curation can have a truly deadening effect, like aesthetic (or anaesthetic) curare.

2 responses to “curator

  1. Love the word play, or
    Play the love word, or
    Word love the play
    The word the play the love, or
    Love the word player

  2. Chips Mackinolty

    … and then there’s curette!

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