I’m sure many of you have seen—or at least heard about—the sans makeup selfie craze that is currently sweeping social media. The idea is to post a self-portrait in which you are not wearing any makeup. In theory, this is supposed to raise awareness for cancer. The good news is that it has resulted in a noticeable increase in donations for various cancer research organizations. The bad news is that it suggests not wearing makeup is brave. I take issue with this for two reasons. One: having cancer is not even remotely similar to not wearing makeup. Two: do we really live in a society that believes a woman who doesn’t wear makeup is doing something brave?
As per usual, this sort of thing makes me wonder about the origins of the words being used. So instead of turning this into a rant about what’s wrong with the world, I thought I’d talk about the word brave.
The modern definition of brave describes someone who is ready to face and endure danger and pain. In other words, someone who demonstrates courage. The word is first seen in English in the late 1400s. It comes from the French word with the same spelling, meaning splendid or valiant, which in turn comes from the Italian word bravo, meaning brave or bold. However, the original meaning of bravo was wild or savage, which likely came from the Medieval Latin word bravus, meaning a cutthroat or a villain. Bravus came from the old Latin pravus, meaning crooked or depraved.
So, just like the word nice, brave’s meaning has evolved considerably from its original roots. Personally, I like the modern meaning better than the original Latin, so maybe we ought to be a bit more judicious in our use of adjectives to describe hopping on bandwagons.