In a sense, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and ex-Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland got purged because they didn’t commit perjury. Thus, the inclusion of these two words in my series of Etymology for Our Times. Here are tidbits on “purge” and “perjury.”
Purge: a Good Thing, a Bad Thing. According to Merriam-Webster, to purge is “1 a: to clear of guilt; b: to free from moral or ceremonial defilement. 2 a: to cause evacuation from // purge the bowels b: (1) to make free of something unwanted (2) to free of sediment or relieve of trapped air by bleeding.”
It isn’t until 2 c that M-W defines purge as “(1): to rid (a nation, a political party, etc.) by a purge (2): to get rid of.”
Hmm… Which of these applies to that npr headline? Are Vindland and Sondland now “free from moral or ceremonial defilement”? Or were they just “taken out,” in the sense of Marie Yovanovitch?
Come to think of it, maybe both senses apply.
Purge’s Etymology. The word “purge” comes to us through Middle English, from Anglo-French purger, from Latin purigare, purgare, “to purify.” Our word “pure” has the same Latin root.
There is No Good Perjury. By contrast, the word “perjury” has no good interpretation. Merriam-Webster defines perjury as “the voluntary violation of an oath or vow either by swearing to what is untrue or by omission to do what has been promised under oath; false swearing.”
Ouch. As in promising under oath “to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Perjury’s Etymology.Merriam-Webster says, “The prefix per- in Latin often meant ‘harmfully.’ So witnesses who perjure themselves do harm to the truth by knowingly tell a lie.”
However, M-W notes that perjury is more than simply lying. It explains “… perjury generally takes place either in court or before a legislative body such as Congress.”
Thus, once testifying to the U.S. Congress, Vendman and Sondland had more than their honor at stake for telling “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God….” According to Wikipedia, “… either ‘so help you God’ or ‘under pains and penalties of perjury’ may be used.”
Defenses Against Perjury. By virtue of the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, our Founding Fathers recognized that people should not be compelled to testify as witnesses against themselves. This in turn has given rise to the courtroom phrase, “I refuse to answer on the grounds that it may incriminate me.”