Someone who encounters the unfamiliar English adjective trabeate (or trabeated) and looks it up at finds as a first definition ‘not arcuate.’ Hmm. Fortunately the dictionary goes on to explain its explanation: ‘having straight horizontal beams or lintels (rather than arches).’ With that clarification, we recognize the arc in arcuate, but what about the trab in trabeate? That turns out to come from the Latin noun trabs, with genitive trabis, meaning ‘beam, timber.’ Latin trabs gave rise to Old French trave, which English has adopted as an architectural term meaning ‘crossbeam’ or ‘a portion of a construction made with crossbeams.’ Another architectural term is architrave (Spanish arquitrabe), which the American Heritage Dictionary defines as ‘the lowermost part of an entablature in classical architecture, resting directly on top of the columns. Also called epistyle.’

People in Roman times used beams not only as supports but also as obstacles, for example to secure the doors of buildings. Latin trabs evolved to Spanish traba, which has lost the literal and constructive senses and retained the ones pertaining to blocking and constraining. A traba is an ‘obstacle, hindrance, hobble.’ Trabas are ‘shackles.’ The derived verb trabar has meanings that include ‘to hinder, obstruct, bar, fasten, hobble, tie, hold shut,’ and even ‘wedge open.’ More constructively, a trabazón is an ‘assembly, link, joining, connection’; with regard to physical substances it means ‘consistency, coherence.’

If we go back well beyond Latin trabs, we find that the underlying Indo-European root is *treb-, which meant ‘dwelling.’ From that root came native English thorp, which designates ‘a small village.’ Though the word is archaic in its own right, it persists as the final element in many English place names. From thorp‘s Afrikaans cognate South African English has acquired the synonymous dorp. We also recognize the German cognate in place names like Düsseldorf.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Maria
    Mar 02, 2018 @ 16:23:11

    I recognize ‘the trabecular meshwork’, which is an area of tissue in the eye located around the base of the cornea, which is responsible for draining the aqueous humor from the eye via the anterior chamber. This is an anatomical part I remember because a family member recently had glaucoma and this anatomical part was explained to me.

    I know the term is also used often for connective tissue of bones. Wiki says: “Trabecula is a supportive and connective tissue element which form in cancellous bone. Trabeculae develop in a normal bone and also in a healing bone. The trabecular pattern of growth follows the course of stress lines along the bone and maximum trabeculae develop along the lines of maximum stress.” I remember this use also from long-ago anatomy courses.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Mar 03, 2018 @ 06:43:52

      I’m sorry to hear that a family member of yours has glaucoma but impressed that you know the word trabecular. Medicine has put many Latin nouns to figurative use, based on the supposed resemblance of one thing to another.


  2. shoreacres
    Mar 02, 2018 @ 19:37:06

    I never would have thought of entablature and architrave on my own, but now that you’ve highlighted them, I remember the words from one of my ninth grade world history class projects: a model of the Parthenon, with all of the architectural details labeled. The entablature was composed of the architrave, frieze, and cornice — and they all looked great in cardboard.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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