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What is Really Meant By 'Sincere'?

The word ‘sincere’ is one that is commonly used today. Usually, it is used to denote “without guile or deceit”. In fact, many letters that are sent through the mail use the term for a conclusion, as in “sincerely yours”. Though a lot of people don’t know what the word really means, aside from the simple definition, people still use the term.

‘Sincere’ is also used a number of times in biblical translations, as the translations of a number of different words that have similar meanings. This indicates that the word has been used for a very long time.

There is some disagreement in regard to the origin of this word, but the most likely origin is also one of the simplest. That is based on a combination of two Latin words; ‘sine’, which means “without” and ‘cera’, which means “wax”. This would mean that the literal translation of ‘sincere’ is “without wax”.

This means that if you say, “I’m sincere”, you are actually saying, “I’m without wax”. At first glance, you might think that this is silly. This actually makes a great deal of sense when it is thought of from the standpoint of common practices that were used when the term came into use.

In biblical times, fluids and other things were often stored in pottery and earthen pots. Many things could go wrong when the pots were made and the pots could have or could develop cracks. Naturally, something that was sold in a cracked pot was suspect, since the contents could leak out. The pots weren’t even of much value if they had a crack. 

In fact, that is the origin of the derogatory term, ‘crackpot’. A crackpot has no value because it leaks its contents. Someone described as a crackpot would be someone who wasn’t all there.

The problem is that it was often very hard to tell that a pot had a crack, back in those days. Less scrupulous merchants routinely covered the cracks with wax, then painted over the top of them. Even with a fairly detailed inspection, the crack was sometimes not detectable.

Reputable merchants, those who didn’t deceive buyers by hiding cracks in the pottery their goods were sold in, took to advertising that their goods were sine cera; without wax. In other words, they were basically telling the buyers that their goods were the real deal and were unadulterated. They were “all there”.

This is reflected in the common definition today and ‘sincere’ still means “without guile or deceit”. It would mean exactly the same thing if “without wax” was substituted for “sincere”. 

The only problem is that most people today don’t know about the deceit that was commonly used by merchants 2,000 to 4,000 years ago. If I ended a letter that I was writing to someone with “without wax, Rex Trulove”, it would be a safe bet that only a handful of people would understand what that conclusion was actually saying. And yet, the meaning would be identical to what would be meant if I signed the letter ‘sincerely’.

I hope that this information is useful and enlightening. I’m without wax about that.

What do you think?

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Written by Rex Trulove

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