Daily Archives: May 9, 2021

truncate

What do you call a tree that’s had its top cut off?

Trunk-ated!

Ha ha ha ha. But… actually… have you ever paused to wonder where the word truncated comes from?

Since you’re here and I’m here, I know you know I’m about to tell you. Our verb truncate comes from Latin truncatus, the past participle of the verb trunco, which means ‘I truncate’ (reasonably enough) or ‘I cut off pieces or extensions’ (of a thing or a person). Trunco comes from truncus, which means… ‘trunk’. As in a human torso or the main body of a tree. (And yes, truncus is the source of trunk.)

So just as we might, in English, call lopping off the top and branches of a tree trunking it (and in fact trunk was in use as a verb to mean ‘cut a tree down to its trunk’ from the 1400s to the 1800s, and perhaps some people still use it that way), in Latin, they did the same thing, just changing truncus to trunco (truncas, truncat, truncamus, truncatis, truncant).

But wait! There’s more! Not a whole lot more, but there is. Do you want to know where truncus comes from? We’re not completely sure, but it may have come from a Proto-Indo-European root (yes, yes, trunks come from roots) meaning ‘carve, cut off, trim’ (meaning that the trunk of a tree or of a human is conceived of as what’s left when you’ve cut the limbs off, ouch). And that root has been reconstructed as *twerḱ-. Which is apparently not related to the English word twerk, though certainly your trunk is involved in twerking.

And that’s all I have to tell you. I could go on about the ramifications, but I think I’ll cut it short.