Monday, September 13, 2004

Etymology Today from M-W: travail \truh-VAIL\
1 a : work especially of a painful or laborious nature : toil b : a physical or mental exertion or piece of work : task, effort c : agony, torment
2 : labor, parturition

Etymologists are pretty certain that "travail" comes from "trepalium," the Late Latin name of an instrument of torture. We don't know exactly what a "trepalium" looked like, but the word's history gives us an idea. "Trepalium" is derived from the Latin "tripalis," which means "having three stakes" (from "tri-," meaning "three," and "palus," meaning "stake"). From "trepalium" sprang the Anglo-French verb "travailler," which originally meant "to torment" but eventually acquired the milder senses "to labor" and "to journey." The shift in meaning from "torment" to "journey" gives us an idea of what people once thought about travel: it was torture. The Anglo-French noun "travail" was borrowed into English in the 13th century, followed about a century later by "travel," another descendant of "travailler."

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