Wednesday, February 29, 2012


During the course of my last program, the question of whether an argument is always equivalent to a fight came up. I pointed out that ideally, an argument is a rational process, while a fight often deteriorates into the emotional and physical. I then said something like, “you have to marshal your facts when you argue.”

Within minutes, a caller asked where the word marshal came from. I couldn’t remember, so here comes the delayed answer. In the context above, to marshal means to arrange, draw up, and manage.

The original meaning of the word was to groom and feed and generally tend to the health of a horse. Over time, it transferred to people, first settling on arranging places at a banquet. Eventually, it took on a military meaning: to arrange forces for fighting.

The next stage saw the word move to the civilian sphere: to arrange things or ideas in a methodical order. Sidebars to that meaning involved law, transportation, heraldry, and sports, but that places us in my original context.

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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