[17] Etymologically, bureau seems to mean ‘red’. Its ultimate source is probably Greek purrhós ‘red’, a derivative of pur ‘fire’ (as in English pyre and pyrotechnic), which is related to English fire. This was borrowed into Latin as burrus, which developed into Old French bure ‘dark brown’. This seems to have formed the basis of a derivative burel, later bureau, meaning ‘dark brown cloth’. This cloth was used for covering the writing surface of desks, and so eventually bureau came to mean ‘writing desk’ itself. Offices being the natural habitat of writing burgess 84 desks, bureau was later applied to them too. The derivative bureaucracy is 19th-century, of French origin. => PYRE, PYROTECHNIC

The Hutchinson dictionary of word origins. 2013.


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