Posts Tagged ‘expunge’

Holesome Words

Posted in English Stew, General on January 7th, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Among recent death threats from readers, the most intelligible included the word “expunge.”  That particular word inspired some etymological musings.  Does “expunge” imply that there once was a word “punge” or “inpunge”? If so, I was going to inpunge the topic here.

Expunge, meaning to erase or obliterate, comes from the Latin word pungere:  to prick.  So, ex + pungere would mean out prick.  That was not a proposition from Caligula but far worse:  a death sentence.  When a Roman tyrant felt in a murderous mood, he would compile a list of his perceived enemies.  Those with an imminent mortality had a stylus prick next to their name.  (It was a neater and more precise method than crossing a name out with ink.  An ink smeared name might even confuse the Praetorians–is that Lucenius or Licenius–and they would kill the wrong senator.) 

So the word expunge preserved its original meaning, if not fatality.  Furthermore, pungere because the basis of other familiar words.  Since the act of pricking creates a hole, a hole-making tool is called a punch.  If you want to make a hole in someone, you can punch him.   A cowboy prodding the cattle along the trail (spurs make holes, too) gave us the term cowpuncher.  And a smell that pierces your senses is pungent.

Now, don’t you feel more erudite!

p.s.  Let’s not forget the historic significance of this day: