primitive/primeval/primordial/pristine

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Dear friends!!!

When guide tourists in the Hermitage museum I always tell them that we have a primitive department or a department devoted to primitive culture. However, my dictionary says that there are other words used to refer to the culture and life of our distant ancestors: primeval, primordial, and pristine. Could you please tell me what is the difference between them all and how are they used to talk about ancient culture?
 
  • JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Pristine means unused/unblemished so that's not appropriate.
    Primeval and primordial both mean from the very beginning (of time or some specific characteristic, respectively). They might relate to "life" but I don't think they are suitable for describing culture.
    Primitive is the only one I think fits. It carries some connotations, some of the time, of "simple-minded" as opposed to your use which might not want to imply that. IF your context eliminates the possibility of it being interpreted as "simple-minded", I think it is suitable. "Early" would also work, given that the context will usually specify or imply some date range.
    Anthropologists may also have developed (specific jargon) words with their own agreed-upon specialist meanings to address your question, so we can wait to see if they frequent this forum! In each geographical region, there are often specific names for specific periods based on locations or archaeological records and these would be preferred if they exist for your area.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    I wouldn't use any of those words to refer to a (type of) culture, Dmitry. The first two usually refer to periods of time long before the (erm) invention of civilization: primeval man had only just come down out of the trees and started walking upright; the primordial swamp was even longer ago than that ~ millions and millions of years ago.

    Pristine refers to something entirely different.

    Primitive's the right and best word, I reckon:thumbsup:
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    I agree that of the choices given "primitive" is the only one that would fit. I wonder, though, if there isn't an even better choice we haven't thought of because "primitive" does carry a slightly negative connotation of unsophisticated and basic, at least it does to my ears. It's probably ok if you are referring to cave men, or similar, but I'd be wary of using it of a culture nearer to today - and definitely not if that culture still exists in some form today.
     

    soccergal

    Senior Member
    English - US
    What about prehistoric culture, or ancient culture?
    Also, I would recommend saying department of primitive (or whatever word you choose) culture.
    If you told me you had a "primitive department", I might think you weren't using computers or something.
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    As you can see from the answers so far, the word we choose depends on what we are talking about. It would be helpful if you provide some description of what is in that department.
     
    I wouldn't use any of those words to refer to a (type of) culture, Dmitry. The first two usually refer to periods of time long before the (erm) invention of civilization: primeval man had only just come down out of the trees and started walking upright; the primordial swamp was even longer ago than that ~ millions and millions of years ago.

    Pristine refers to something entirely different.

    Primitive's the right and best word, I reckon:thumbsup:
    Thanks to all of you for your assistance. As usual you have provided brilliant explanations, which have made it much clearer to me. I would like to know if there are any substantial differences between "primeval" and "primordial". Does "primordial" suggest that something helped even earlier than "another something" described by "primeval"? I am asking because my dictionary does not say anything about this difference.

    Can I use "primordial" together with "man" - "primordial man" like you have suggested "primeval man"?

    Also I will post the link at the department of primitive culture in the Hermitage culture in St.Petersburg http://www.hermitagemuseum.org/html_En/03/hm3_2.html

    Thanks!!!
     

    WyomingSue

    Senior Member
    English--USA
    As a history teacher, I agree with Ewie. I wouldn't use either primordial or primeval with human culture. "Prehistoric" is generally used up to about 3000 BC or so, and then types of culture: Bronze Age, Iron Age, etc. I certainly wouldn't use "primitive" or "prehistoric" for the Siberian, Nomadic and Medieval cultures. (Nice website, by the way.)
    Maybe you could refer to the Wikipedia article on Russian history written in English for some ideas on English vocabulary: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Russia#Pre-Slavic_inhabitants
     
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