• trencherman •
Pronunciation: tren-chêr-mên • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. This Good Word does not refer to someone who digs trenches, but a person with a good appetite who eats heartily, a gourmand. 2. It may also indicate a parasite who always turns up at the table and eats at the expense of others.
Notes: This word certainly comes from trench, but when trench meant "cut" and the knife was the only eating utensil. So the verb trencher has emerged rarely, usually in the form of the noun, trenchering "feasting, eating lavishly". The Oxford English Dictionary spells this Good Word trencher-man, making it a compound rather than a suffixed noun (see the Notes on statesman for the difference). However, it is now simply a derived noun with the suffix -man that we also see in statesman and postman.
In Play: One of the best restaurants here in my hometown for a decade was The Valiant Trencherman, where the locals could genuinely test their appetites. Valiant is a common epithet used with this noun, "Strom Bowley is not a gourmet, but he certainly is a valiant trencherman." In fact, we can use the adjective to distinguish the negative sense of this word, "Farnsworth is a scurrilous trencherman who orders the most expensive item on the menu, then retires to the men's room when they bring the check."
Word History: This word comes from Old French trancheur "cutter" from the verb trancher "to cut, hew, slice". This verb descended from Latin truncare "to cut or lop off", which also led to truncus "tree trunk", what remains when you lop off all the branches. This explains why trenchant means "cutting", as in a trenchant remark, as well as the origin of trench. The root of today's word is also akin to tranche "a share, portion, or 'cut'" of something. The original root is probably the same one that produced Greek trauma "wound". (Today we are grateful to Larry Brady for bringing up a word whose root has as twisted and dashing a history as we will ever find.)