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detergent (n.)

"detergent substance," 1670s, from detergent (adj.). Originally a medical term; application to "chemical cleansing product" is by 1932.

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detergent (adj.)

"cleansing, purging," 1610s, from Latin detergentem (nominative detergens), present participle of detergere "to wipe away, cleanse," from de "off, away" (see de-) + tergere "to rub, polish, wipe," which is of uncertain origin. Originally a medical term.

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chamber-lye (n.)
"urine used as a detergent," 1570s, from chamber (n.) in the "privy" sense + lye.
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smegma (n.)
sebaceous secretion, 1819, from Latin, from Greek smegma "a detergent, soap, unguent," from smekhein "to wipe off, wipe clean, cleanse," from PIE root *sme- "to smear" (source also of Czech smetana "cream," and see smear (v.)). So called from resemblance; a medical coinage, the word seems not to have been used in its literal Greek sense in English before this. Related: Smegmatic.
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lye (n.)
Old English læg, leag "lye, water impregnated with alkaline salt absorbed from the ashes of wood by leaching," from Proto-Germanic *laugo (source also of Middle Dutch loghe, Dutch loog, Old High German louga, German Lauge "lye"), from PIE root *leue- "to wash."

The substance formerly was used in place of soap, hence Old High German luhhen "to wash," Old Norse laug "hot bath, hot spring," Danish lørdag, Swedish lördag "Saturday," literally "washing-day," "the day appropriated by the Scandinavians to that exercise" [Century Dictionary]. Chamber-lye in early Modern English was the name for urine used as a detergent.
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