Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Language of Confusion: -trieve

The way some words are connected is mind boggling. Retrieve for example. I’m sure you’re aware that you can retrieve something, but never trieve it. However, I’m sure you’ve all heard of a trove. Like a treasure trove. Of useless, boring information about etymology.

Yes, they are connected. Retrieve first showed up in the fifteenth century by way of the Old French retrouver, which means “find again”. Retrouver is a combination of the prefix re- (as in again) and the word trouver, to find, making it “to find again”. However, when it was taken into English, it lost the “again” part.

Trove wasn’t recorded as a singular word until 1888, but treasure trove showed up in the mid sixteenth century. It is actually from Anglo-French, the twelfth century phrase tresor trové. As anyone who regularly reads this blog can guess, it can be traced to Latin. Tresor trové is a translation of thesaurus inventus, which can be literally translated as “treasure was found” or “found treasure.”

tl;dr: French translated a Latin saying and used it as a word, which then morphed into unique words in English. The mystery of why what we call a book of synonyms literally means treasure will have to wait until next time.

The Urban Dictionary, although that was more for me than the explanation.


  1. You should do a whole origin on the word "fuck". I've been curious about it for some time. I heard from an English professor that it was from a French word which may or may not be the reason people say "excuse my French" when they are swearing. Anyway, I enjoy the informative posts. I'm just putting out a suggestion :)

  2. LOL, I like Michael's idea.

    Your posts are always interesting! They always focus on things that I'd always just taken for granted about language. :)

  3. Good post!

    I think that particular useful in almost every context aside from a school graduation ceremony word goes back several hundred years!


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