Words Drawn from “Trahere”

By Mark Nichol

The Latin verb trahere is the source of an assortment of words pertaining to drawing or to drawing or pulling out. This post lists and defines the English descendant tract and terms formed from that root word; a follow-up post will discuss trahere’s disguised offspring.

Most words in the trahere family are based on tract, which itself refers to an area of land (hence “tract home” to refer to a dwelling that is part of a housing development) or to a bundle of related nerve fibers or an anatomical system, as well as, less commonly, a period of time. (Tract also refers to a political or religious pamphlet.)

A tractor is a vehicle that pulls. (A tractor that pulls cargo containers is sometimes called a semitractor, or a semi.) Traction is the act of, or the force exerted in, pulling, or a force that causes a moving object to resist movement, or, figuratively, support necessary to achieve progress.

Words that combine a prefix with tract include abstract (literally, “draw from”), which as an adjective means “disassociated,” “formal,” “impersonal” or “theoretical” and as a noun means “summary of a document.” Abstraction is the quality of exhibiting one of these states, or the act or state of summarization. Meanwhile, to attract is to literally or figurative draw toward; attraction is the associated force or quality, and something that attracts is an attractor.

Contract (literally, “draw with”) means “enter into an agreement”; “be affected by” or “incur”; or “physically shorten,” “restrict,” or “wrinkle.” (Contraction is the act or condition of being restricted or shortened.) As an adjective, the word pertains to being hired for a task rather than as an employee; one who works under these conditions is a contractor (not a contractee), and a contractor may hire assistants or specialists as subcontractors. The adjective contractual refers to an agreement, but something that can be contracted is contractible, and the capacity to be contracted is contractability. In the euphemistic slang of organized crime, to put out a contract on someone is to hire someone to kill someone else.

One who detracts takes away, and the act is detraction. That word generally refers to an instance of belittling or disparagement, and the actor is a detractor. Distrahere, meaning “draw in different directions,” is the parent word of the verb distract and the noun distraction, as well as distraught, an adjective originally meaning “deranged” or “mad” but now most often pertaining to emotional distress.

Extract means to take out, and an extract is something taken out; such an action is an extraction. To protract (“draw forward”) is to continue or extend; the word is not employed as a noun, but a protractor is one who protracts or a muscle that does so, as well as a mathematical tool for drawing and measuring angles. (Protracted serves as an adjective.)

To retract, by contrast, is to draw back in, or to disavow or withdraw a claim or other statement, including an offer or a promise. An act of retracting is a retraction. Meanwhile, to subtract is to take away, especially in the mathematical sense, and subtraction is the act of taking away. A subtrahend is a number subtracted by another. (The other is called a minuend; that word, related to minor and minute, is from the Latin verb minuere, meaning “lessen.”)


1 Response to “Words Drawn from “Trahere””

  • D.A.W.

    “cargo container” has a different definition.
    The large cargo containers that we can see on railroad lines and in ports every day are created in a few standard sizes. These are made to be hauled by railroad (on “flat cars”), on ships (called “container ships), on barges, by trucks, and in large transport aircraft.
    As for their contents, there is a phrase for that, and it is “containerized cargo” and the seaports for this are called “container ports”.
    In German, the word “Container” means specifically those large, standardized shipping containers, and five of the world’s largest “container ports” are Hamburg, Bremen, Bremerhaven, Antwerp (Belgium), and Rotterdam (Holland).
    In German, they do not use the word “Container” for something like “a four liter container of beer” or “a two kilogram container of cereal”. Those are all much too small in German, and other words are used instead.

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