The stock market may not like recent declines in crude oil prices, but the grocery market just might. For the everyday consumer, these declines are spelling savings at the pump, which, for many people, like me, means a little extra cash for checkout lane. We just need to be sure that the food we buy is properly cooked, if we are considering crude‘s etymology.

"Crude." Doodle by @andrescalo.
“Crude.” Doodle by @andrescalo.


Crude comes into English in the late 1300s, when it referred to a material in its natural or raw state. Chaucer again gets the Oxford English Dictionary‘s first attestation. It comes from the Latin crudus, whose meanings were manifold, much like the word’s uses in English today. Its sense of “rough” was applied to wounds (“bloody” and “bleeding”), food (“unripened,” “uncooked,” and “undigested”), and behavior (“rude” and “fierce”). Crude oil, also known as petroleum and dating back to 1865, makes sense if we think of it as “unprocessed” or “unrefined.”

Related to crudus it is crudēlis, meaning “cruel” and source of the same, after its medial d deteriorated in French. The original force of cruel, however, was much more violent. Crudus also lives on in some far from crude-sounding derivatives. A recrudescence is a renewal or relapse, from a verbal form meaning to “get rough,” as in a battle or disease. The color ecru, from French écru, is considered “raw” or “unbleached,” in reference to fabric. Impress your friends by telling them you will bring crudité, or raw vegetables, to the Super Bowl party.

These French words may seem quite refined, but their core sense of “raw” points us right to crude‘s more ancient roots. For crude, historical linguists have reconstructed a Proto-Indo-European etymon of *kreuə-, “raw flesh,” a word we can imagine figured prominently in Proto-Indo-European foods and fights.

This *kreuə– not only means “raw,” but it also related to that very word raw. For *kreuə-, following some significant sound changes, yielded the Old English hrēaw. The initial /h/ in cluster /hr/ was reduced, vowels were shifted, and raw remains. A rude person might be crude, but the words are unrelated.

The root *kreuə– still flexes its muscle in words we get from Ancient Greek, whose tenderized *kreuə into κρέας (kreas)“flesh.” The pancreas, as an organ, is “all flesh.” Creatine helps build muscle and the extinct creodont was quite the carnivore. Creosote helps impart meat its smoky flavor when grilled, which is about the only way I think I can find crude oil the slightest bit appetizing.

m ∫ r ∫ 

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