traila

Native speakers of standard Spanish, like those of standard English, are unlikely to recognize traila. The word is an example of Spanglish, or some would say Tex-Mex. By whatever designation, traila is a Spanish version of the English word trailer. While traila can refer to the type of trailer that people live in, which is to say a mobile home, when I saw the word in Austin the other day it appeared on the side of a vehicle from which people buy breakfast or lunch, i.e. a food trailer.

English trailer obviously comes from trail: a trailer is a vehicle that trails behind the one that is pulling it. The etymology of trail itself isn’t fully established. The American Heritage Dictionary says that Middle English probably took the verb trailen, source of the modern trail, from Old French trailler, which meant ‘to hunt without a foreknown course.’ That would have developed from Vulgar Latin *trāgulāre, a hunting term meaning ‘to make a deer double back and forth.’ The AHD speculates that *trāgulāre might have arisen as an alteration of Latin trahere ‘to pull, draw,’ under the influence of Latin trāgula ‘dragnet.’ In trahere, of course, we recognize the ancestor of the synonymous Spanish traer, which according to linguasorb is the 73rd most common verb in Spanish (follow the link if you’d like to see a list of the top 100).

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. tintotinta311
    Dec 09, 2016 @ 14:59:21

    I moved to Texas this summer from abroad and am appalled by the use of Spanglish on buy/sell sites (as I had to start from scratch) because it’s so littered by spelling mistakes in both Spanish and English, and the switching back and forth is so random, that the only way to know what item is available is by the photo posted. Traila could be trahla (since it comes from English they insert a silent h wherever), or “troca ke hala vien” (that should be troca que jala bien). I’m not sure if Spanglish is to blame for dumbing down both languages, or if the levels of literacy were already low in both and have now been magnified by combining the languages. Or hopefully this is just the case for the specific city where I’m living and other speakers are crafting beautiful bilingual poetry or doubly-funny jokes with a Tex-Mex kick. I’d love to read some of that, rather than “bendo sapatos taya 6” (vendo zapatos talla 6).

    Reply

    • Steve Schwartzman
      Dec 09, 2016 @ 21:22:28

      The advent of texting and the Internet have lowered already low academic “standards”—I put quotation marks around the word because in many cases there aren’t any enforced academic standards. I taught on and off for four decades, during which time I saw things either fail to improve or else get worse. It’s bad enough within one language, but as you pointed out, when two are involved, the deterioration can be worse. I don’t know what city you’re living in, but I’m sorry to tell you that the problem exists everywhere in the country. It’s not just in language, either, but in all academic subjects. ¡Ay!

      Reply

  2. shoreacres
    Dec 10, 2016 @ 09:11:06

    The Spanglish I hear most often is “Estás ready?” I do wonder if Spanglish sometimes is more an effect than a cause: less a dumbing down than an attempt to cope in environments where Spanish and English speakers are forced by circumstance to communicate with one another.

    On the docks, it’s often linguistic chaos. I helped a fellow write a note to one of his customers recently. He needed to know the English word for the front, pointy end of the boat. It’s “bow,” of course, but before we were done, we’d confused bow with bough, rhymed bough with cough, and tied a bow around his customer’s neck. Frustrated, he said he hated dealing with “biles.” Eventually, I realized he wasn’t talking about his liver, but about a “bill.”

    I did wonder why movie promotion shorts are called “trailers,” since they appear in front of the feature film. It seems they used to be shown after the main feature, but people tended to leave the theater and not watch them. So, they began to be shown before the featured film, but kept the name “trailer.”

    Reply

    • Steve Schwartzman
      Dec 10, 2016 @ 09:34:14

      English spelling is hard enough for natives; I feel sorry for foreigners. One good thing about a no-longer-phonetic spelling like cough is that it shows how the word used to be pronounced. In this case it reveals the imitative origin of the word, with the gh having been a throaty sound like the ch in the German pronunciation of Bach or like the j in Spanish.

      When languages and cultures come in contact, borrowing occurs. It’s easy to understand why people would borrow a word for which they have no good equivalent, or no equivalent at all: that’s how tea and coffee came to be almost universal words. At other times, though, a language has a good word of its own, so it’s hard to understand why Spanish speakers in Texas feel the need to replace camión with troca, for example, or factura with bil.

      Thanks for the historical explanation of why we call a movie preview a trailer.

      Reply

  3. shoreacres
    Dec 20, 2016 @ 06:13:11

    While reading about the mass of cold air trailing the cold front that passed through our area, I was introduced to another great word. As the arctic front ploughed through the southern Mexico mountain gaps, meteorologists were all agog over the staying power of the Tehuantepecer.

    Reply

    • Steve Schwartzman
      Dec 20, 2016 @ 08:13:12

      I may have heard mention of Tehuano wind on the weather report the other day, but I know I’ve never heard the word Tehuantepecer. I assume it’s pronounced with the hard c that’s at the end of Tehuantepec.

      Reply

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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