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A Cleaner World Blog

Where Did the Word Laundry Come From?

In our house, the word “laundry” has several meanings. 

  1. Noun. ‘A pile of dirty things thrown on the floor in front of the washing machine by husband or son.’
  2. Noun. ‘Clean, nicely folded, and organized garments, towels, and linens that wife/mom carries all over the house to put away.’
  3. Verb. ‘The action or process of washing soiled garments and linens.’
  4. Slang. ‘A word when said that makes wife/mom really grumpy when there’s too much of it.’

My son is in the 6th grade and on his 4th year of Latin, which means that I too have learned a fair amount of Latin.  We play this game, especially when he learns new words, guessing what English derivatives come from certain Latin words.  What I’ve learned over the last 4 years is that 95% of the English language seems to come from Latin, so I asked Gray what the Latin word for ‘to wash’ was, and he said lavara.  I did some mental calculations myself, and then I confirmed it with his 5th grade Latin teacher, and it is indeed ‘lavara’.  So over time, like many words, it has transpired:

Old French – lavanderie – a person who washes linen

Old French – lavandry – to wash

Middle English – lavendry

English – launder

Early 16th century – laundry

It’s funny to watch how a word’s meaning changes over time.  In the 17th century, when someone said dirty laundry, they meant soiled clothing.  Today it can also mean public exposure of embarrassing private matters.  And here’s another meaning, related to drag racing, I had absolutely no idea existed -- A slang term for the parachutes on a drag racing car. They are required on cars that can go 150+ mph in a quarter of a mile. Letting the chutes out to slow the car down is "dumping the laundry".

None of this information will help you get your laundry done more quickly or efficiently, unless you blow it out of the back of your car while driving on the Interstate and then go purchase new clothes.  And sometimes, when I am facing a mound of definition number 4, I consider that to be a good option.  Of course, a more prudent option might be to take advantage of the services A Cleaner World offers by dropping off your dirty laundry at one of our convenient locations.

clean laundry
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