This entertaining article from The Economist Christmas Special looks at changing attitudes towards cleanliness through the ages and wonders if the current obsession with personal hygiene has gone too far. These extracts contain some useful vocabulary and idioms:
Grub, filth, grime, muck, gunk, slag, grit, grunge, smut, dross, dust, sludge, squalor. Insulted, hounded and despised, dirt these days has nowhere to hide. A constant shower of advertising and health warnings orders you to scrub, cleanse or purify every corner of the body, office or home. Bugs lurk at every turn. Skin, as much as household surfaces, must be scoured, sterilised and sprayed. [...]
The English language demonises dirt. It is packed with phrases such as “to do the dirty”, “to dish the dirt” or “dirty money” or “dirty word”. In England, policemen are denounced as “the filth”. All politicians seek to avoid “washing their dirty laundry in public”. Those of humble origins were born “dirt poor”, and the wealthy are often “filthy rich”.
Getting rid of dirt, or merely its absence, by extension, is a good thing. “A clean bill of health”, “a clean record”, “clean sweep”, or “good clean fun” evoke wholesome flawlessness, renewal or order. Full article >>
There are also some fascinating tidbits of information:
• The computer keyboard supposedly contains nearly 70 times more microbes that the average lavatory seat.
• One in three American men does not wash his hands after going to the toilet.
• For about 400 years in the second millennium, water was thought to carry disease into the skin.
• Louis XIII was not given an bath until he was almost seven.
• France's Henri IV was famously filthy, "stinking of sweat, stables, feet and garlic".
• The French ban baggy swimming trunks from all public pools on hygiene grounds.
• Washing hands in hospital 'spreads disease' (Daily Telegraph)
• Disinfectants 'teach' superbugs to become resistant to antibiotics (Daily Mail)