PRISTINE: “having its original purity; uncorrupted or unsullied” —Random House Dictionary
I play a game with my eight-year-old. We’ll pass a sign that cautions “Bridge freezes before road.” I ask, “Why is that?” My kid, without fail, blurts out, “I don’t know.” I, without fail, then say, “Think.” Eyes roll and gears churn, but five minutes and a few questions later, he’s figured it out. Eight-year-old announces he wants to be a meteorologist.
So let’s play that game now. Why can you not restore an object to pristine condition? Why can you not insist a table setting, product sample or document be pristine? Why do people use pristine to mean “perfect” or “flawless” when the original condition of an object may indeed be flawed?
Ah. I thought you’d say that. Congratulations. You are no smarter than a third grader. But take comfort. One day you, too, will learn to ask questions and fulfill your dream of being a meteorologist. Then no one will care if you’re right only 30% of the time.
—Otto E. Mezzo
NOTE: Until the early 20th century, pristine meant “primitive,” so when one spoke of the pristine redwood forests, one referred to their age, not their virgin quality. Pristine still retains that definition — indeed, it was the one I learned in elementary school in the late 1970s — however, it has been overshadowed by the newer meaning of “unspoiled” and the incorrect one of “spotless.”