Feeling the Urge to Purge

Funny people, the ancient Greeks: at least four words for love (storge, philia, eros & agapē), but they make one word serve for cleansing, purging, pruning and emotional release.

It makes sense, though, when you think about it. The word ‘love’ is made to mean far too many things for people to be really certain of what anyone means when they use it; and the various meanings of katharsis do fit together with a certain neatness.

Katharsis (or catharsis as we spell it in English, presumably a thin attempt at covering up the theft) is generally agreed to be a pleasurable feeling. This is why we enjoy reading or watching stories which involve unenjoyable elements. Our emotions are taken out for a brisk airing and returned to their proper places with the warm glow of exercise. This is, incidentally, why we cry when we’re really happy: all the emotion needs to be purged, and tears is how we do it.

But it’s the cleansing/purging aspect of katharsis which I particularly want to look at. Because cleansing and purging are themselves cathartic. This is not to say that washing dishes comes with an automatic glow of satisfaction (if only!) but there is a certain pleasure to be had in pruning the unnecessary elements from one’s life, purging the unwanted stuff, and cleansing what remains. It’s refreshing.

Le faccende di casa by Adriano Cecioni 1869

I spent a while this afternoon cleaning and cleaning out the bathroom – with particular reference to the cupboards. A variety of items left the room for good, and what was left was vigorously reorganized. And I felt good. Unfortunately this took the form of making the Caped Gooseberry come and admire the results. (Patience: a highly underrated quality in a spouse.)

A word to the wise: don’t flush random medications down the loo. Sewage is generally treated before it’s released into the wild, but as far as I know they don’t have special filters for distilling medicaments from the surging tide. Drop them off at the nearest pharmacy/chemist instead.

But don’t worry. As far as I know the mutant-druggie-sewer-alligator is just an urban myth.

Albino Alligator mississippiensis

5 Replies to “Feeling the Urge to Purge”

  1. Hi Deborah, great blog

    I see you use both cleaning and cleansing. How do you see the difference between these?

    For myself I think of cleansing as the namby-pamby ineffectual-daub version of cleaning and an archaism to boot. Our (admittedly highly ancient -1978) COD give the main meaning of cleanse as ‘purify’ and only a second, archaic meaning as ‘make clean’. However I note that it is becoming more prevalent as the years go by to be used to mean ‘make clean’, especially in advertisements – the culture moving away from facing realities square on?

    So you chose to make your bathroom clean rather than pure – a good choice, unless it is a centre of religious observance for you.


    1. Thanks for the comment!

      Myself, I think of cleaning as a surface thing, whereas cleansing goes deeper. I suppose it could be described as the difference between washing one’s hands (cleaning) and scrubbing the dead skin etc away (cleansing).

      But those may be my personal connotations for the words. Our own ancient dictionary (I see your 1978 COD and raise you a 1933 SOD) suggests that clean is now used for the more literal meanings of cleanse, but notes meanings including to clear or rid and to purge.

      To be sure, there does seem to be a growing bathroom-based religion of cleansing (accompanied by the rest of the skin-care trinity: toning and moisturising) but I can’t say I’m tempted to become an adherent!

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