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travail (truh-VAYL) noun

Painfully difficult work; agony, anguish; the pain of childbirth.

verb intr.

To work strenuously, toil; be in labor.

[From Old French travailler (to work hard), from Vulgar Latin tripaliare, (to torture with a tripalium). A tripalium was a three-staked instrument of torture.]

Travel also derives from travailler, with reference to the hardships of a journey. The first recorded use of travel (as travelen) was in the 14th century, when anyone venturing on a journey could expect to face many hardships, even if not encountering a three-staked torture device.

Travail and travel derive from Indo-European root *trei-, meaning three. Less obvious words in this family include trammel, sitar, trivia, trivial, troika, trivet, testify, testimony, testament, attest, contest, detest, and protest. These last seven words derive from Latin testis, with reference to a (third party) witness, also the source of the word for the testicles that bear witness to male virility. One more word in the *trei- family is triskaidekaphobia, fear of the number thirteen.

"Mustapha and Ishaya Bamaiyi may never have liked each other's guts but their travails have many parallels. Both are products of the Abacha years and are both counting on good luck and a lot of legal antics to save their necks."
Goodluck Ebelo and Seyi Oduyela; A Rescue Effort Hits the Top Gear Reports; Tempo (Lagos, Nigeria); Jan 13, 1999.

"One keeps turning pages, savoring pithy moments like this, long after wearying of the mouthpiece characters and their trumped-up travails."
Scott Prater; Trumped-up Travails; The Atlantic Monthly (Boston); Apr 2003.

This week's theme: words based on numbers by guest wordsmith Stewart Edelstein.


Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. -Scott Adams, cartoonist (1957- )

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