Thursday, January 24, 2008

From the Trenches

  I am reading once again David Crystal’s The Stories of English, and when I came to a check mark in the margin on page 72, I found a word that had caught my eye before. It appears in this sentence: “And a whole new tranche of Danish words would become fashionable.”

The word tranche comes to us from the French, where it means to cut or slice. In the context above, it would be defined as a block or a set. In the world of investing, tranche is used to describe a security that can be split up into smaller pieces and subsequently sold to investors. As appearance and origin would suggest, it is related to the word trench.

Trench has taken on a few meanings through the centuries. Chaucer used it to designate a path winding through the woods. We use it to name a ditch. In military use, the long ditch sits behind a mound of dirt thrown from the excavation in order to protect soldiers from enemy fire. That’s where the garment called the trench coat received its name, as did the maladies trench fever, trench foot, and trench mouth. And, in the 16th century, it referred to horse colic.

A trencher was a wooden plate on which meat was placed and cut up, so there is a connection to the words above. Also related is truncheon and truncate/truncation.

SIDEBAR: the deepest ocean trench

SIDEBAR: The Tranche Project

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