Posted by: Jack Henry | August 16, 2016

Editor’s Corner: Maneuver and Manure

Good morning, my friends. Today I have an interesting couple of words for you from Words of a Feather: A Humorous Puzzlement of Etymological Pairs, by Murray Suid. Our language adventure today is all about maneuver and manure. The faint of heart need not continue.

Often, a single root produces words that pull us in very different directions. Take the pair that title this entry.

Maneuver comes from the Old French maneuvre, “manual labor,” which goes back to the Latin manus, “hand.” Manual labor usually involves moving something, and by the eighteenth century maneuver had acquired the meaning of moving military forces. Around the same time, it also came to mean “shrewd operations” in other arenas, such as business and politics.

Manure, on the other hand [KC – I hate it when that happens!], suggests something down and dirty. Also tracing back to manus, manure early on meant using hands to enrich the land with dung. Eventually, the word became a synonym for dung itself.

In those old days, reviving the soil was a noble task. Indeed, until two hundred years ago, the verb manure was sometimes used in the sense of develop—so that you might talk about “manuring one’s mind.” Even into the twentieth century, E.B. White could comment favorably on “the smell of manure and the glory of everything.”

But eventually, as the masses moved from farms to cities, they lost their appreciation of dung, so that today if you told me to “manure my writing skills,” I might reply that your suggestion stinks.

And a very timely photo submission…

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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