or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Go Fish

Yesterday on BoingBoing, a piece about a kid's-show host who got fired because she made a couple of short films about....well, just read it contained the following sentence:

What did they think would happen - our 4-year-old might find the films while trolling the Internet?!?

Perfectly unexceptionable, you might think. I certainly did. But then a reader chimed in with this:

You quoted some text using the word "trolling" in a piece on BB today. "our 4-year-old might find the films while trolling the Internet?!?"

I know it was not your text, but really I am very tired of seeing this nonsensical usage and would welcome its regular correction before it gets out of hand.

A troll is ... well a troll. So 'trolling' makes no real sense. I am 100% convinced that this usage began when someone correctly used the word 'trawling' in a proper context and some under-educated (not even enough to think to check) thought it sounded like trolling and ... well that's how s**t happens. I have yet to see a usage of the word 'trolling' where 'trawling' would not have fitted perfectly (and more to the point, correctly, I believe).

Even before reading the next two readers' excoriations I was thinking, "What the hell? Clearly this is someone who knows nothing about fishing." The verb "troll", unrelated to the noun that lives under a bridge and eats children, simply means "to fish", and its original usage was entirely correct, as ten seconds' worth of research would have demonstrated: type "troll" into Answers.com, and there it is: verb, intransitive, to fish by trailing a line. (In a very mild defense of the grammar defender, "troll" as in "Internet troll" is a very common word, and since nouns are often turned into verbs in English, it's not hard to see how the reader might have thought it was an invented usage. I suppose.)

"Troll", however, is not related to "trawl": I had thought, or at least hoped, that it might be, even though the meaning is quite different, because while trolling is fishing with a line, trawling is fishing with a drag-net. The verb "troll", Answers.com tells us, comes from Middle English "trollen", "to wander about". Now, doesn't that call to mind "stroll", which also more or less means "to wander about"? I thought it did, but you are probably way ahead of me in guessing that there isn't any connection between "troll" and "stroll". Instead, "stroll" seems to be related, remarkably, to "astrologer" (although there are two perhapses in Answers.com's definition). What does strolling have to do with astrologers? Nothing about being born under a wandering star: astrologers and other fortunetellers were vagabonds who strolled around from town to town making their seedy living.

So what have we learned from this? Don't be an amateur etymologist, unless you're willing to put in the time to do at least a little research.


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