Wednesday 21 March 2012

Manufactured Manure

It's always rather pleasant to watch a word shift in meanings until it means the opposite of itself. Such a word is manufactured, which is Latin for handmade. Manus is hand, as in manual, and facture is making as in, well, a factory, where things are made. But the difference between a factory and a manufactory is the handiwork.

Thus an Elizabethan chap could write:

Yet the image is rather a manufacture, to wit, a thing wrought vpon a creature by the artificer's hand...

And yet now, we would consider handmade and manufactured to be antonyms.

Another lost hand of etymology is manure. Once upon a time manuring was simply working by hand. People would manure their farms and gardens until their hands were sore. But obviously, a central part of this horticultural handiwork, was spreading dung upon the land. Mind you, a 1561 translation of Calvin could still have the line:

The worde of God‥if it light upon a soul manured with the hand of the heavenly spirit, it will bee most fruitfull.

Which is something to consider next time you're getting a manicure.


1 comment:

  1. I'd have said Manufactured was more a synonym of Mass Produced rather than Mechanised so it doesn't strictly mean 'not made by hand' but an interesting post nonetheless.