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traffic

Printable Version
Pronunciation: træf-ik Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, verb

Meaning: 1. Commercial interchange of goods, particularly their conveyance along a transportation system. 2. The legal or illegal movement of goods and people through the transportation system by any vehicle. 3. The movement of vehicles themselves, e.g. automobile traffic, air traffic, rail traffic. 4. Movement of any bodies through any space (metaphorical).

Notes: This word also serves as a verb meaning to traffic in, usually implying a questionable trade, 'as trafficking in stolen goods'. Look out for the phantom [k] that must be added before some suffixes: trafficking, trafficked. Someone who traffics in anything is a trafficker, but goods that may be trafficked are trafficable. The negative connotation associated with the verb does not influence the noun.

In Play: Today the noun more often refers to the movement of vehicles along streets and roads: "The traffic on Maxwell's street has become heavier since they extended it to the mall." It is applied metaphorically, though, "Beatriz had rather face the traffic on the freeway than the traffic in her kitchen at dinnertime." When the verb is used in reference to trade, the trade is usually of a shady sort: "Miss Deeds paid her employees just enough to avoid prosecution for trafficking in human beings."

Word History: This, again, is a French word, trafic, borrowed from Old Italian traffico, the noun from trafficare "to trade". This word would seem to be a natural descendant of Vulgar (Street) Latin transfaecare comprising trans- "across, over" + faex (faec-s) "dregs, sediment", which English borrowed as feces (British faeces). However, this hardly makes sense, unless the pejorative sense preceded the positive sense, which it didn't. Another suggestion is that it is a combination of trans- + facere "do, make". While this origin makes more semantic sense, the usual combining form of facere after prefixes is -ficere. The movement of the meaning seems clear enough: from buying and selling goods to trafficking in them. This implies some form of transport, so the shift of meaning to the movement of the vehicles in the transportation system itself (boat traffic, rail traffic, air traffic, highway traffic, etc.) is but a short bump away.

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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