May 29, 2011
A casual mention of a “bonfire” took me to wondering about the origin of that term: a fire, yes, but why a “bon” fire? I couldn’t think of another English word that uses “bon” as a prefix, and it seemed unlikely that the French “bon” was the origin. Indeed not. Here’s the etymology from word-origins.com:
- Date of Origin 14th c.
A bonfire was originally a fire in which bones were burned. References to such (presumably rather evil-smelling) fires, which were large open air affairs, continue down to the 18th century, but latterly they have a distinctly antiquarian air, as if such things were a thing of the past. By the later 15th century the word was already passing to the more general modern meaning ‘large outdoor fire’, either celebratory (as in Bonfire Night, 5 November) or for destroying refuse.
“A fire in which bones were burned:” the word origin gives dimension to “The Bonfire of the Vanities.”