Primitive implies first-come, ab-original, from the same
root as prime, of the first rank. Beware of the negative overtone which the word has
acquired. Primitive does not mean second class, or crude. Likewise the word,
"ornament" originally meant, to furnish with something necessary to the function
of the object, although in recent times it has acquired the opposite meaning.
In this sense, a button is ornamented with holes, a bucket with
handles, a book with a cover and a title. The ornamented thing is fitted out, be it an
altar or an ancient tomb, with intelligible and sacred purpose. Without this ornament, the
altar would be "un-fit" to perform its function. "To fit out" also
means to equip with proper attire, as an astronaut with a space suit. A stone may also be
dressed, to "make it fit" properly. Here the "dressing" has a
In the same way, "decor" is functional. The
association of fitness with propriety is seen in the word, decorum, which has a common
root with "decorate" and illustrates nicely the primitive meaning of ornament.
In some societies, nudity is normal, except on ceremonial occasions, when people dress
decoratively and ornament themselves.
The ritual necessity of "dressing up" (all
children's love of dressing up is an innate impulse in this context) is a universal
custom. "To dress", then, has real connection with the word decorate, as
something that is necessary, even among people who have no apparent need to clothe
So does it not seem strange that when we see a pattern
inscribed on stone we normally do not think of it as functionally necessary, although the
stone has been furnished with the pattern no less than a bedroom with a mattress, or a cup
with a handle?