Sunday, 19 March 2017

A distraction


I’ve simply been enjoying playing with at least a dozen uses of the word ‘tract’ this week.

It turns out to be one of those very physical words which dominate most of our figures of speech (in much the same way that the words ‘dominate’ and ‘figures’ function there) but we don’t notice this because the word is Latin.

It is part of the Latin word ‘trahere’, which is ‘to draw’ in the sense of ‘to pull’.

So to at-tract is to draw something towards you.

While, to dis-tract is draw something away.

To re-tract is to take something back – and this is one of those wonderful cases where modern English has two almost identical words, one with Latin roots (re-tract) and one with Anglo-Saxon roots (with-draw).

A con-tract draws people together.

To ex-tract and an ex-tract are about pulling something out.

As is sub-tract in the sense of taking something away - and 'taking away' is the exact Anglo-Saxon equivalent.

While abs-tract can be used like ex-tract and like sub-tract in the sense of pulled out or taken away, but can also be used marvellously as a physical image for all that is non-physical in the sense of what is non-pullable.

I particularly like in-tract-able, which is also something you can’t move.

Best of all, it seems to me, is something pro-tract-ed, which is to be long drawn out - and 'long drawn out' is not only the Anglo-Saxon equivalent here but also gives rise to the identical Latin / Anglo-Saxon hybrid word pro-long-ed.

Your digestive tract is also long drawn out.

And (although this is the least obvious) so is a tract of land.

A written tract appears to be something which draws out the implications of a proposition.

And a machine which pulls things along is either a tract-ion engine or, more simply, a tract-or.

Meanwhile, the picture is a wasp nest found in the roof space at St Nicolas’ during building work; we knew from periodic invasions of the church that there must be something there and are glad it has now been removed.

1 comment:

Joy Davis said...

You have too much time on your hands Peter..it is causing a definite distraction!