"alter (something) so as to change its nature," 1878, from French dénaturer (Old French desnaturer "change the nature of; make unnatural"); see de- + nature. Earlier it meant "to make unnatural" (1680s). Earlier in the modern sense of denature was denaturalize (1812). Related: Denatured.
Entries linking to denature
active word-forming element in English and in many verbs inherited from French and Latin, from Latin de "down, down from, from, off; concerning" (see de), also used as a prefix in Latin, usually meaning "down, off, away, from among, down from," but also "down to the bottom, totally" hence "completely" (intensive or completive), which is its sense in many English words.
As a Latin prefix it also had the function of undoing or reversing a verb's action, and hence it came to be used as a pure privative — "not, do the opposite of, undo" — which is its primary function as a living prefix in English, as in defrost (1895), defuse (1943), de-escalate (1964), etc. In some cases, a reduced form of dis-.
late 13c., "restorative powers of the body, bodily processes; powers of growth;" from Old French nature "nature, being, principle of life; character, essence," from Latin natura "course of things; natural character, constitution, quality; the universe," literally "birth," from natus "born," past participle of nasci "to be born," from PIE root *gene- "give birth, beget."
By mid-14c. as "the forces or processes of the material world; that which produces living things and maintains order." From late 14c. as "creation, the universe;" also "heredity, birth, hereditary circumstance; essential qualities, inherent constitution, innate disposition" (as in human nature); also "nature personified, Mother Nature." Nature and nurture have been paired and contrasted since Shakespeare's "Tempest."
The phrase "nature and nurture" is a convenient jingle of words, for it separates under two distinct heads the innumerable elements of which personality is composed. Nature is all that a man brings with himself into the world; nurture is every influence from without that affects him after his birth. [Francis Galton, "English Men of Science: Their Nature and Nurture," 1875]
Specifically as "the material world beyond human civilization or society; an original, wild, undomesticated condition" from 1660s, especially in state of nature "the condition of man before organized society." Nature-worship "religion which deifies the phenomena of physical nature" is by 1840.
Nature should be avoided in such vague expressions as 'a lover of nature,' 'poems about nature.' Unless more specific statements follow, the reader cannot tell whether the poems have to do with natural scenery, rural life, the sunset, the untouched wilderness, or the habits of squirrels. [Strunk & White, "The Elements of Style," 3rd ed., 1979]
Man, her last work, who seem'd so fair,
Such splendid purpose in his eyes,
Who roll'd the psalm to wintry skies,
Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,
Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation's final law—
Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek'd against his creed—
[Tennyson, from "In Memoriam"]
updated on July 19, 2018