Words Based on “Portare”

By Mark Nichol

The Latin verb portare, meaning “carry,” is the basis of many words pertaining to moving things from one place to another, as detailed in the discussion below.

The direct descendant of portare is the verb port; the noun port, meaning “harbor” or “opening,” is distantly related, with a common proto-Indo-European root. More specific compounds pertaining to the sense of “harbor” include airport and seaport (and, so far only in fictional contexts, spaceport).

Port also once referred to one’s personal bearing; this term is obsolete, though the sense is preserved in the noun deportment. (Comportment, meaning “behavior,” has a similar sense, although the verb comport means not only “behave” but also “agree with.”) Meanwhile, the verb deport less often refers to deportment than it applies to banishment; the noun form for the latter sense is deportation.)

The two senses of porter derive from the distinct meanings of port; one describes a person who carries (also the source of the surname Porter and the name of a type of dark beer once favored by porters and other laborers), and the other refers to a gatekeeper. (The name of the cut of steak called porterhouse derives from the name of a type of restaurant where porter was served.)

Portmanteau (literally “carry cloak”) originally referred to a court official responsible for bearing a royal person’s mantle, or cloak, and later came to describe a suitcase with two compartments. Lewis Carroll gave the word a metaphorical new meaning of “a word with two meanings packed into one,” a designation for such coinages of his as chortle (probably intended as a mash-up of chuckle and snort).

Something that is portable is able to be carried. Portage, which in its identical French form originally referred to a tax paid for entering a town, as did its Medieval Latin forebear portaticum (also derived from portare), came in English to mean “an act of carrying” and later developed the specific sense of carrying boats across land from one body of water to another.

Portfolio derives from the Italian noun portafoglio, referring first to a case for carrying papers and later to government documents as well as samples of an artist or designer’s work. “Prêt à porter,” adopted directly from French, literally means “ready to carry” but pertains to clothing that is ready to wear—that is, bought off the rack rather than custom-tailored.

Asportation is a legal term referring to the element of larceny that consists of carrying away another person’s property.

To disport is to amuse or divert, from the notion of emotionally or mentally carrying one away. To export is to carry out, and to import is to carry in; the noun forms are exportation and importation. Import, in the sense of “imply” or “signify” (as in “to be of great import”), and the adjective important, the adverb importantly, and the noun importance stem from the notion of “carrying” significance. Purport has the same derivation; as a noun, it is synonymous with the “conveyed” or “implied” senses of import, though as a verb it can mean “intend” or, more often, suggests a specious claim.

Rapport originally meant “reference” or “relation” but came to specifically describe interpersonal harmony, as in the case of two people who develop a close affinity.

Report derives from the sense of carrying information (including an explosive sound, as that produced by firing a gun); a person who does so is a reporter, and what the reporter accomplishes is reportage. To support is to carry as an act of assistance or reinforcement; one who helps by literally or figuratively carrying for another is a supporter. To transport is to carry something or someone from one place to another. A person or device that does so is a transporter (as in the case of the teleportation devices in the Star Trek entertainment franchise), and the act is called transportation.

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7 Responses to “Words Based on “Portare””

  • Dale A. Wood

    “The two senses of porter derive from the distinct meanings of port; one describes a person who carries (also the source of the surname Porter}”.

    I think that the following is mostly a Southern custom, but I have also know of some men with the given name of “Porter”, friends and acquaintances of my father and his three brothers. The most famous one of these men was the musician “Porter Wagoner” of Nashville. He was most famous for a song named “The Carroll County Accident” and for his “Porter Wagoner Show” on TV – which often featured the very young Dolly Parton back then.

  • Dale A. Wood

    In the stories of SHOGUN by James Clavell, there is a minor Japanese character who is such low standing, socially and economically, that the only name that he had was the Japanese word for “porter”. That was his lot in life: to be a porter for his entire adult live, and probably before.
    Poor “porter” met his end when he was executed by the Japanese for a deed that looked like nothing at all to the shipwrecked Englishmen. This was much to the consternation to the English captain, “Anji San”, whose real name was Blackthorn.

  • Dale A. Wood

    I am a man who was “soaked into” American miniseries on TV: ROOTS, SHOGUN, “North vs. South”, “The Winds of War”, “War and Remembrance”, “The Thorn Birds”, PEARL (1978), and the remake of “From Here to Eternity” (1979).

  • Dale A. Wood

    Speaking of being soaked into things, during 1978-1979, we were soaked in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, with PEARL and “From Here to Eternity”. There was more soaking then. PEARL starred Dennis Weaver, Angie Dickinson, Robert Wagner, and Leslie Ann Warren. “From Here to Eternity” starred NATALIE WOOD, William Devane, Kim Basinger, and Roy Thinnes.
    In case you haven’t seen the connection, there is the one Natalie Wood >—-< Robert Wagner from the two miniseries.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Note: “(and, so far only in fictional contexts, ‘spaceport’).”
    “Au contrare!” The Tyruatam Spaceport in Kazakhstan.
    At least, this is the translation of its name into English.

    Apparently, the “Kapustan Yar Spaceport” in Russia was a piece of disinformation spread by the USSR and intended to fool authorities in the Western world. Thus, this one was fictional.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Note: “Prêt à porter,” adopted directly from French, literally means “ready to carry” but pertains to clothing that is ready to wear—that is, bought off the rack rather than custom-tailored.”
    These is a difference in the idioms concerning clothing in many Western languages. In English, we say “to wear” clothing.
    In German, the verb “tragen” means “to carry”, but it also means “to wear” in the context of clothing. For example, “Die Frau tragt eine Kleid,” means “The woman is wearing a dress.” “Kleid” means “dress”, but “Kleider” means “clothing”.
    The German verb “tragen” is a false cognate with the English verb “to drag”. Hence, one would make the mistaken translation of “Die Frau tragt eine Kleid,” as “The woman is dragging her dress around.”
    LOL, this would be insulting: her dress is so bad that there she is in her underwear, dragging her dress around on the floor!
    I can imagine someone like Cher or Britney Spears, at the Oscars, in her underwear, dragging her dress behind her!
    Likewise in French, “Prêt à porter,” directly means “Ready to wear”, because that is the idiomatic use of the word “porter”, which means “to wear”.

  • Dale A. Wood

    It is helpful to know what the various nouns mean in different languages. In the right context, these all mean the same: “Kleider” in German, “ropa” in Spanish, and “dress” in English = “clothing”, such as in “formal dress” and “casual dress”.
    I will leave it up to you to figure it out in French, Italian, Russian, Japanese, etc.
    “Was fuer Kleider werden Sie tragen?” means “What kind of clothing will you wear?” “Ich trage Grossmantel !,” means “I am wearing an overcoat!” Maybe that would be good to wear to the Academy Awards. None of that business about a tuxedo or an evening gown.

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