(Note to my loyal readers: although English 213 is over, and I earned an “A” thanks to your dedicated commenting and reading, I am going to try and post a lot this summer. Aspiring writers have no excuse not to write! Thus, please keep coming back, and in return I’ll try to make it worth your while.)
The word “clean” has been in use since the 12th century, stemming from the Old High German “kleini” meaning “delicate or dainty.” It has since morphed to expand its meaning, and I think it’s safe to guess that as an adjective, “clean” has frustrated mothers, dentists, reformers, and type-A personalities for hundreds of years due to its variation in meaning. You know what I’m talking about: some people understand “clean”… and some just don’t. One gets a clear sense of a person’s definition of “clean” with several requests:
“Honey, will you clean up for me?”
“All donations should be clean and in good condition.”
“Clean up your language, young man!”
“If we’re going to have a dance at your wedding, we’re keeping it clean. You know what that means, buddy.”
Now, to a person born with a genetic disposition to all things organized, sanitary, moral, and ethical, these requests are straightforward and quite reasonable. However, to those of us not born with the “clean gene,” asking someone to “clean up” can be downright confounding and lead to rather messy conflict (ironically).
I am one of those people who possesses the “clean gene,” so-to-speak. This has caused quite a few conflicts with my sister, who inherited a dramatically different understanding of the word. Based on my experience with her, I thank God everyday that I don’t have a brother.
Ever since I sat in front of the television set as a child and watched Barney and friends sing, “clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere!” I have taken the job of cleaning seriously. I have a deep passion and appreciation for a clean existence. Evidence of this: I don’t like to eat ribs, because they leave my hands covered in barbecue sauce; my backpack has a hook-on antibacterial hand sanitizer so I’m never more than 5 seconds away from “clean” hands, and upon arriving home from college, I spent a good 12 hours cleaning and organizing my room. When I see trash in the grass, I often pick it up. When I hear “Teenage Dream” by Katy Perry, I alternately do a little dance to the catchy beat and condemn the song in my head, cringing at the thought of my grandmother listening to the lyrics along with me: not a “clean” song.
As for my sister, her definition of “clean” overlaps with mine in the moral arena. Otherwise, to her, a “clean” room might have a pile of dirty clothes stuffed in the corner, a full wastebasket, and used cups and plates stacked (neatly, mind you) on the dresser. To which my response has always been nuh uh, sister. (Note: to her credit, she is gradually learning and improving. Now she even cleans the bathroom before I come home from college: one giant leap for sister.)
Obviously, not everyone has to be a self-professed “clean freak.” There is a time and place for varying standards of cleanliness. We can’t all be Mary Poppins, and the subway station and Buckingham Palace obviously don’t need to be held to the same degree of cleanliness. However, with the adage “cleanliness is next to godliness” stemming from ancient times, and plentiful evidence that our world is obsessed with cleaning up the environment, hiring janitors and custodians whose sole jobs are to clean, and teaching children to clean their rooms, is there any room for the antithesis of clean?
And what is the opposite of “clean?” Dirty? Immoral? Messy? Disorganized?
Is cleanliness really next to godliness?