or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I was sitting in the doctor's office today, waiting to be attended to (more on that here, if you like), and, as I had neglected to bring my iPod (very stupid) and was trying and failing to ignore the little chatterbox playing with the toys* and her equally blabbery mother sitting next to me, I started leafing through the little book I keep with me to write down interesting words that bear further research and dreadful errors that beg to be smirked about in print.

One of the interesting words was "troubadour", which struck me because even though I was pretty sure it had to be French in origin, the ending looked much like the modern Spanish noun ending "-dor", as in "matador" or "salvador" ("saviour").

And "-dor-" it is, but not from Spanish: from Old Proven├žal. The original is "trobador", descended from the verb "trobar" (even the verb looks Spanish), which is related to modern French "trouver", "to find"; "trobar" did mean "to find", but it also meant "to compose", perhaps because the idea of composing a song was just finding it lying around somewhere. (It also meant "to invent", which is another point on the continuum of actively creating something or merely noticing it.)

I suppose I could go into lots more detail and do all kinds of research about the relationship between modern Spanish and Old Proven├žal, but I'm afraid that, uncharacteristically, I just don't care. No, what grabs my attention is that "trouver" has left a couple of unexpected descendants in English. I had no idea.

It never occurred to me to wonder where "contrive" came from, but it's from "trouver", all right. To contrive means to invent, in one way or another, and "invent" is of course one of the senses of "trobar".

English also has a legal word that there's no reason I would ever have come across, "trover", which is a noun (pronounced exactly as it ought to be if you knew English but no French) referring to a kind of legal action you take if someone has illegally appropriated your goods for his or her own use. I'm not sure how this use differs from mere theft, but then I am not a lawyer, obviously.

* No, I don't hate kids. I just wasn't in the mood for her unceasing, astoundingly high-pitched six-year-old's babble. I'm unwell, dammit!


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