June 13, 2013

Case File #013.06.13: FOMENT

Foment first appeared in the English lexicon circa 1425, but it originally meant “to bathe a part of the body in hot liquids, especially for medicinal purposes.” It was derived from the Old French fomenter, which meant “to apply hot compresses to a wound” and was itself ultimately a derivation of the Latin fovere. The Latin term, however, actually had two meanings: “to warm or heat” and “to foster or encourage.” During the sixteenth century, educated English speakers who were cognizant of the Latin roots of foment began to sometimes use the word to mean “to encourage or promote,” and by about 1600, this had taken over as the word's primary sense and the thermic meaning had become secondary. The now familiar use of foment in which it has negative connotations—that is, “to instigate or stir up trouble”—was first recorded in Francis Bacon's The History of the Reign of King Henry VII in 1622, and not long after, this became the verb's only meaning and thus its sole semantic connection to any type of hot water.

©2013 Michael R. Gates

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