"troll" and other words with two mommies?

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sat Oct 5 18:55:29 UTC 2013

The noun troll has two senses that are connected to the verb troll as
noted in the OED definition.

[Begin excerpt]
Computing slang. A person who posts deliberately erroneous or
antagonistic messages to a newsgroup or similar forum with the
intention of eliciting a hostile or corrective response. Also: a
message of this type.
[End excerpt]

Perhaps the existence of dual etyma may be related to these dual
senses. The person who posts the message may naturally be connected to
the notion of a troll under a bridge or a "misshapen and hidden

The message itself is easier to connect to the notion of bait. Hence,
trolling as a fishing technique comes to mind.

It is, of course,  possible to refer to a person who trolls as a
"troller" but it seems "troll" currently predominates for this sense.


On Sat, Oct 5, 2013 at 2:32 PM, Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: "troll" and other words with two mommies?
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Relevant here, I think, is Connie Eble's "Slang: Etymology, Folk
> Etymology and Multiple Etymology" (SECOL Review 10, 1986), also
> incorporated in _Slang & Sociability_ (1996). Connie applies Roger
> Wescott's notion of "lexical polygenesis" to consider how "multiple
> etymology" seems to be at play in the history of many slang items.
> Michael Adams refers to Connie's work in _Slayer Slang_ (though he
> prefers "mixed etymology"), and I believe Ron Butters also cites it in
> his _Dictionaries_ paper on "X sucks."
> On Sat, Oct 5, 2013 at 1:57 PM, Geoffrey Nunberg wrote:
>> I probably didn't explain myself clearly. I don't think any of these examples
>> exhibit the same phenomenon as 'troll'. There are no end of words to which
>> people assign distinct or conflicting etymologies. The point with 'troll' is that
>> both etyma are simultaneously present to the contemporary speaker's mind
>> and that each figures centrally in shaping its meaning as a "thick term," in
>> Bernard Williams term, which both categorizes and judges--the one supplying
>> the descriptive content ("using baited lines to catch someone" and the other
>> its evaluative content ("a reprehensible activity conducted by a misshapen
>> and hidden figure"). So neither could be the "right" etymology by itself in the
>> speaker's reconstruction. Whereas no new insight is gained by imagining
>> that 'duck/t tape" simultaneously owes part of its meaning to each of the
>> supposed sources. And while 'ass' can be regarded as deriving from either
>> donkeys or buttocks, and may shift its use accordingly, there's no argument!
>> to be made that it must simultaneously be derived from both in order to mean
>> what it does.
>>> W Brewer=20
>>> Date: Sat, 5 Oct 2013 17:21:03 +0800
>>> =20
>>> GN: <<How many other words ... that have two (or more?) distinct etyma
>>> simultaneously present to speakers, each of which actively influences =
>> its
>>> meaning. >>
>>> WB: For a punster, more than for a non-punster. Formal similarity =
>> induces
>>> semantic association to varying degrees in different people.
>>> =20
>>> ass 'donkey, fool' (Latin asinus) <=3D ass 'buttocks' (Old English =
>> ears).
>>> duct tape <=3D duck tape.
>>> cache 'stash' [cash, cash-SHAY] <=3D cachet [cash-SHAY].
>>> =20
>>> ------------------------------------------------------------
>>> =20
>>> =20
>>> From: Charles C Doyle=20
>>> Sat, 5 Oct 2013 14:12:11 +0000
>>> =20
>>> =20
>>> Yes, there exists a fairly extensive category of words that, =
>>> historically, have uncertain, confused, multiple, folk, facetious, or =
>>> otherwise recoverable or reanalyzable etymologies, available for the =
>>> enrichment of their signification by poets and wits and (sometimes =
>>> unconsciously) ordinary speakers.  Besides "ass" and "duct/duck tape" =
>>> (as WB points out), there's "island."  And we may think of Milton's =
>>> narrator's use of "astonished"/"astounded"/"stunned" in reference to the =
>>> devils in _Paradise Lost_--recently hurled from heaven by the Almighty's =
>>> thunderbolts.
>>>> =20
>>>> --Charlie
> --
> Ben Zimmer
> http://benzimmer.com/
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list