Thursday, September 20, 2018

Language of Confusion: Text, Part II

Here’s the rest of the words related to text, even though some of them really don’t look like it.

All. All of them don’t look like it.

Tech is related, although it has a somewhat long path to getting there. See, it first showed up in 1906 as short for “technical college”, and then in 1942 as being short for technician. But that word didn’t show up until 1833, and was a mix of technic and -ian, and actually showed up a couple of decades after technique (the spelling of that is from French, unsurprisingly). Technic is older, having shown up in the early seventeenth century, from the classical Latin technicus, technician or master, taken from the Greek tekhnikos, technical. No matter if it’s technic, the prefix techno-, or technique, all are from teks-, the Proto Indo European word for to weave that’s the origin of all of these words.

What other words are related? Well first of all, there’s subtle. No fooling. It showed up in the fourteenth century (even earlier as a last name, of all things), and back when it first showed up it was actually spelled sotil and meant penetrating or refined. That was from the Old French sotil, which was sometimes spelled soutil and even subtil, so I guess we have the French to thank for the B becoming silent. The word is from the classical Latin subtilis, subtle, a mix of sub-, under, and -tilis, from tela, web. Which of course is where weaving/teks- comes in.

Next on this tour of weirdness is the word tissue, which at least makes sense when you think about tissue being made up of “woven” fibers. It showed up in English in the mid fourteenth century, meaning a “band or belt of rich material”. It comes from the Old French tissu, ribbon, which has a noun form that meant to weave, and of course is from the classical Latin texere, to weave.

Finally today, toil. No, not the toil you’re thinking of. That one means hard work which isn’t related at all. There’s another one, and it means a hunting net—net, weave, web. Makes sense. It showed up in the mid sixteenth century meaning net or snare, from the Old French toile and the Latin tela, which gave us subtle. I didn’t even know that one existed, but if you’ve heard of it and wonder if it’s related to toil, then no, it isn’t, that’s crazy talk.



  1. And now tissue paper covers everything from Kleenex to the thin paper that wraps gifts in bags.

  2. So there really was a Mr. Subtle...

  3. Toil in the context of a net is something I had no idea about.

  4. Toil and toile--like the connection. Alex is right.

  5. I thought the word was toile, not toil.


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