Daily Archives: January 25, 2014


This word has a certain taste of celerity and accelerator, but’s it’s terser. It almost seems a more select word, but it has a sound of a brand name that’s made to sell… After all, it is the name of a car.

That’s not all it’s the name of, mind you, and not the first thing it was the name of, either. Before it was used for hawking cars, it was – as it still is – a name for a male goshawk or falcon. It comes via French, somewhat changed from the Latin tertiolus, diminutive of tertius ‘third’. The bird word is also spelled tiercel.

Oh, and in either spelling, the accent is on the first syllable: tercel is “terse’ll” and tiercel is “tier s’ll.” Funny thing in English: we used to leave final -el syllables unstressed, sometimes even spelling them -ell as in names such as Winchell, Twitchell, Meynell, but nowadays we tend by default to stress them, repronouncing names – and restressing tercel in the brand name as “ter-sell”… good for selling, of course.

So why was a male falcon a third? There are two lines of thought: it’s either because the male is a third smaller than the female, or because about one in three falcon eggs is a male.

So why was a Toyota Tercel so named? Because, like the male falcon, it’s smaller than its counterpart. What is the corollary counterpart? The Toyota Corolla – so named because corolla is Latin for ‘small crown’ or ‘chaplet’ and it is modelled on the larger Toyota Crown. (There’s also the Toyota Corona – corona is Latin for ‘crown’ – and the Toyota Camry, which gets its name from Japanese kanmuri, ‘little crown’.)

So it wasn’t named for the flash and dash of the raptor? Its celerity, perhaps? Well, a Toyota Tercel’s speedometer tops out at 185 km/h (about 115 mph), and I have seen a YouTube video of someone’s dashboard as they manage to get one up to that on a flat straightaway. The top speed of a falcon in a dive, on the other hand, is about 320 km/h (200 mph).

So, um, advantage bird. Unless you can show me that a Toyota Tercel dropped from a great height achieves a higher terminal velocity. But even if it does, the bird still wins – because it survives.

Thanks to Roberto de Vido for suggesting today’s word.