“Spurious was Jessica Lahey’s vocabulary/etymology word of the day, she writes on Core Knowledge Blog.
“Spurious” describes something that is false, or inauthentic, but it comes from the Latin spurius, meaning “bastard” or “illegitimate.” Spurius was related to all sorts of lovely words such as spurcitia, meaning “filthiness” or “dirt,” and spurcare, “to make dirty” or “to defile.” The Romans thought highly of their illegitimate children, clearly. They even turned spurius into a proper name for all those illegitimate offspring roaming around ancient Rome. If your name was Spurius, you were likely illegitimate.
That led to her cultural literacy item of the day: Edmund’s first speech in Act II of King Lear.
Edmund (a.k.a Spurius) was the illegitimate son of Gloucester, close advisor to Lear. Gloucester lavishes all of his love on the legitimate son, Edgar, which drives Edmund nuts. . . . Anger drives him to deceit in the form of a tragic plot against his brother that leads to Oedipus-style eye removal, nakedness, and rampant baseness among all concerned. The fact that Edmund is, in fact, the spurious (illegitimate) son causes him to become spurious (false) and deceive his father. See that? That’s just lovely, if you ask me.
In this PBS performance of King Lear, “Edmund is a hottie and does this extremely appealing L- and T- thing with his tongue on the word ‘legitimate’ that causes giggles among the middle school girls,” Lahey writes. Here’s Edmund (Spurius):
Thou, Nature, art my goddess; to thy law
My services are bound. Wherefore should I 335
Stand in the plague of custom, and permit
The curiosity of nations to deprive me,
For that I am some twelve or fourteen moonshines
Lag of a brother? Why bastard? wherefore base?
When my dimensions are as well compact, 340
My mind as generous, and my shape as true,
As honest madam’s issue? Why brand they us
With base? with baseness? bastardy? base, base?
Who, in the lusty stealth of nature, take
More composition and fierce quality 345
Than doth, within a dull, stale, tired bed,
Go to th’ creating a whole tribe of fops
Got ‘tween asleep and wake? Well then,
Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land.
Our father’s love is to the bastard Edmund 350
As to th’ legitimate. Fine word- ‘legitimate’!
Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed,
And my invention thrive, Edmund the base
Shall top th’ legitimate. I grow; I prosper.
Now, gods, stand up for bastards! 355