Thursday, March 4, 2021

Language Of Confusion: Tracts, Part I

Time for another multi-parter. I do love not having to come up with post ideas.
Tract first showed up in the mid fifteenth century, meaning an area or a period of time. Yeah. It comes from the classical Latin tractus, which just means tract, a noun from the verb trahere, to pull. I have no idea how pull came to mean tract, but it is from the Proto Indo European root tragh-, to drag.
Traction showed up in the early fifteenth century, from the Medieval Latin tractionem, which is from trahere. Basically, it’s tract with -ion on the end to make it a noun, and fun fact, traction as in friction showed up in 1825, from the traction of a wheel and the surface it’s on, and traction in medicine showed up in 1885 because of “a sustained pull to part of the body to hold fractured bones in position”. Not really sure why that one’s traction, but whatever. As for tractor, it showed up in 1856, from the Latin tractor, from tract. Not much of a story there.
You wouldn’t believe the words related to tract. First of all, trace. It showed up in the fourteenth century from the Old French tracier and Vulgar Latin tractiare. That word is also from tractus, meaning it’s also from tragh-, to draw, drag or move. I mean, following the path of something I suppose is kind moving after it. I guess I can’t complain about it too much.
Now, obviously with all this talk about drag, we have to see if it’s related. Which it might be, but because this is etymology, it also might not be. Drag first showed up in the fourteenth century, meaning to draw something along the bottom of a river in search of something, not meaning to drag something in general until a century later. It’s thought to be from the Old Norse draga or Old English dragan, both of which are from the Proto Germanic draganan and Proto Indo European dhregh-, which is thought to be a variant of tragh-. Considering it means to draw or drag on the ground, that certainly seems possible, but considering this is etymology, it’s probably more likely that they aren’t related at all.
Finally today, treat. Yeah. It showed up in the fourteenth century, first as a verb and then as a noun. But back then, it only had to do with negotiation. A treat was a discussion of terms, while to treat was to negotiate. It wasn’t until the fifteenth century that treat had to do with treating someone with food and drink, in the sense that you’re being nice to butter them up, and then in the eighteenth century it started being to treat someone with medicine (I guess because you’re “negotiating” with the ailment). Treat comes from the Old French traitier, to deal with, from the classical Latin tractare, which means to treat, though it originally meant to drag around. It’s from trahere, so the drag part makes sense, but not how it evolved from there.
Online Etymology Dictionary
Google Translate
University of Texas at Austin Linguistic Research Center
University of Texas at San Antonio’s page on Proto Indo European language
Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English
Old English-English Dictionary
Dictionary of Medieval Latin
Encyclopaedia Britannica


  1. A tractor does drag a plow.
    What about treat as in sweets? Same thing?

  2. Interesting... These are such different words yet related. Isn't language wonderful?

  3. I wonder if drag, with its core meaning, has a common root with dredge, which does the same thing

  4. Oh, so that's where treaty came from?


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