Are You Without Wax?

Posted: August 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

columnsI’m fascinated by word and phrase origins. Being a language arts teacher, one of the tricks I would use to help students incorporate new words into their vocabulary was to enlighten them about the origins of certain words and phrases. One of my favorite stories centers around the word “sincere”. I will share it with the world now. You can tell me later if you liked it or not, as long as you share your opinion without wax.

In ancient Rome, marble merchants would sell their marble pieces for architecture and building purposes in open air markets. They were very competitive merchants, and would adjust the prices of their marble regularly, always trying to outbid and outdo each other in sales.

Just like any other product, marble has its flaws and impurities. And, if a marble merchant needed to move his product along to keep in business, he would resort to shady sales techniques and tricks to fool the poor marble buyer into purchasing inferior quality marble. The shady seller would take clear wax and plug the chips and divots of the marble. When buyers would come along and inquire, the merchant would encourage the buyer to run his hands over the marble to feel the “smoothness” and notice that there were no chips or dents — indicating that his product was just as high quality marble as his neighbor’s high quality marble.

After this practice was discovered by the true high quality goods merchants, they would go on the offensive by placing signs on their marble pieces. The signs would read: SIN  CERE. Sin is Latin for “without”. “Cere” is Latin for wax.

Hence, the merchants with high quality marble would become known as the “sincere” merchants: those who are honest and trustworthy.

And that is how we English-speaking people have come to use the word “sincere” to describe someone who is truthful, honest, and upfront.

It does sound more pleasant to be called “sincere” than “without wax”, doesn’t it?

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