Undressing: Exuberant and Fascinating

Sometimes word origins get shrouded in the mists of time, or cloaked in ignorance, or covered up by prudish authorities.. When these origins or etymologies have to do with nudity, I say we uncover ’em! That’s what we nudists do – we uncover things – mostly our bodies. Have a gander at this trio of nekkid etymologies:

DRESS is another way of saying right, in a way that means both “correct” and “privilege.” In many cultures, “to dress” implies presenting oneself correctly in the sense of wearing what one has earned the right to wear (through battle, from wealth, because of a marriage, etc.) This sense of “dress” helps explain why nude protests are linked to having been stripped of one’s rights – to be “undressed” is to be without rights. Here is a longer explanation.

EXUBERANT essentially means top-free. The root “uber” gives us the word udder, the “ex” means out… If you have your breasts or chest exposed, you’re literally exuberant, overflowing, spilling out with an abundance of joy, of fertility, of enthusiasm, etc. How many of us use the word without understanding or remembering the origin? Most, of course. Read more about this etymology here.

Exuberant readers in a recent meme, obviously quite unconcerned about their enthusiastic overflow.

FASCINATING originally meant charmed… by a penis. One of the Roman gods was a flying phallus named Fascinus. Some believed that wearing amulets in the form of a winged erection ensured fertility and warded off evil. The use of the amulet was said to charm, disarm, or hypnotize those who gazed upon it. Again – a safe bet that most people who use this very common word today ignore the origin – and might be astonished, offended, or embarrassed to learn it. See more here.

To formulate a general conclusion from these three examples, we could say that our nude bodies are associated with ideas as disparate as a lack of rights, an abundance of force or joy, and magic spell-casting powers. Yet what is shared is a sense that nudity is indeed powerful and is associated historically, as still today, with high emotions – whether in protest, or in protection, or in the desire for abundance and fertility. Words are powerful too – spells, grammar (its alternate ‘glamour’ meant enchantment)… in stripping these examples to their roots, we can understand more deeply the powerful manifestations of our nudity in language and in culture.

4 thoughts on “Undressing: Exuberant and Fascinating”

  1. Thanks once again Will for a wonderful, dare I say educational, article. I’ll have to think my words carefully next time I get too exuberant at feeling full of fascination for the state of un-dress. Indeed I am ‘fascinated’ by language and the origin of words so I got both education and amusement simultaneously here. Cheers. Andrew.

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