Why is it always filthy lucre?

One gets to wondering, midway through a drive across Kansas, what is lucre, exactly, that it always seems to be appearing in tandem with “filthy?” Off to the OED I did go, and found the word did not always keep such low company.

Gain, profit, pecuniary advantage. Now only with unfavourable implication: Gain viewed as a low motive for action; ‘pelf’

The word is quite old, dating back to Chaucer, though even then the negative connotations were creeping in.

1386   Chaucer Prioress’s Tale39   Foule vsure and lucre of vileynye.

1390   J. Gower Confessio Amantis III. 380   Uppon the lucre of merchandie, Compassement and tricherie Of singuler profit to wynne.
c1430   Lydgate Reson & Sens. (E.E.T.S.) 1335   For now vnneth[e] ther ys noone That loueth but for lucre of gode.

a1637   B. Jonson Magnetick Lady v. x. 86 in Wks. (1640) III,   Love to my Child, and lucre of the portion Provok’d me

Odd, isn’t it, that coin earned through commerce and effort gets the bad rap? One would think the English would value lucre resulting from enterprise, but apparently not.



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One comment on “Why is it always filthy lucre?

  1. ‘midway through a drive across Kansas’
    My condolences on driving across Kansas in the summertime. During my youth we drove from Topeka to Estes Park every summer. This was back in the days of no automobile air-conditioning