Saturday, February 21, 2009

Troll or trawl?

Some may find this to be a tad picky, but it is a pet peeve of mine that people substitute the word weary for wary. It happens more often that you'd think. The former refers to a state of feeling tired, and the latter means to be cautious. So, when someone says "I am weary of that suspicious looking man," my initial reaction is more likely to be annoyance for their mistake than concern for their safety. Perhaps my priorities are out of whack, but it's still true.

The other day I was listening to a David Sedaris audiobook (highly recommended way of passing time on a treadmill, by the way), and he was describing the act of "trawling" through something.  I can't remember through what it was that he trawled.  But it made me wonder if, when I refer to "trolling" through something - say, the Internet - I am using the word incorrectly.  When I use the word, it's usually referring to something vaguely seedy, and I believe he was using "trawl" in a similar context:

"Andrew enjoys trolling the Internet for cute guys."

Obviously, this is an important issue that needs to be addressed, so I consulted Wikipedia:

Trolling is a method of fishing where one or more fishing lines, baited with lures or bait fish, are drawn through the water. 

Trolling can be phonetically confused with trawling, a completely different method of fishing, where a net (trawl) is drawn through the water instead of lines. Trolling is used both for recreational and commercial fishing whereas trawling is used mainly for commercial fishing.

This meaning of the term 'troll' as 'to wave a bait' is probably a heavy influence on the adoption of the term for describing certain negative social interactions in internet discussions.

Thank you, Wikipedia!  The last sentence is particularly interesting: at least now I know how I came to use the word in the first place.  

How's that for random Saturday morning musings?  Stay tuned for my next linguistics topic, the fascinating and unusual Pennsylvanian usage of the word anymore!  Included will be an interview with the Pennsylvanian that brought this phenomenon to my attention, my husband. 

Yep, exciting stuff. 


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