This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Spot the Frippet: trunk.

Photo: Stuart Bassil

Words jump. Last week's Spot the Frippet, galley, had leapt, quite sensibly and comprehensibly, from meaning a sort of a ship to being a name for a tray of type.

It's the same with trunks. Trunks may seem like very different things - what does a person's torso have in common with a long-distance telephone call, or an elephant's prehensile nose with what I here in England call the boot of a car? - but they've all grown from the same place.

It all started with the Latin word truncus, which means lopped. From there it's easy to see how it became the word for the main stem of a tree, and from there onwards to take in the main stem of a human body, a road, a railway, and a ventilation or telephone system.

But how about the box-like trunks, that take your holiday clothes? How about the trunks that men wear for swimming?

Well, the word seems to have jumped from meaning something strong that leads somewhere, to meaning something strong that encloses something (and also travels somewhere). That's how you get to trunk cabins on ships, and the trunkfish, which is enclosed in bony plates.

File:PSM V21 D612 Ostraciontidae horned trunk fish.jpg

Swimming trunks aren't usually strong, but their function is to protect something delicate and precious.

Or so I understand.

Spot the Frippet: trunk. Easiest spot ever. From the Old French tronc, from the Latin truncus, lopped.


  1. Do you know I'd never given the word a single thought but how interesting it is! Lovely!

    1. Thanks, Adele. This word goes back a long way with me. As a child I was always fascinated by the idea of a trunk call...I thought it was one made with an elephant-sized megaphone!