• thrall •
thrawl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A slave, serf, captive, someone held in bondage. 2. Bondage, slavery.
Notes: This word survives today only in the derived verb enthrall "to captivate". Yet, at one time is was the original Germanic word for "slave". Slave was the French spelling for slav "member of the Slavic peoples (Russians, Poles, Czechs, Bulgarians, and so forth)". The Slavs came to be taken as slaves at the beginning of the ninth century when the Holy Roman Empire tried to fix the German-Slavic border. In the 12th century the HRE was at war with the Slavs, which continued in a series of expansionistic wars that only ended only in 1410. That year the Poles crushed the knights of the Teutonic Order at the Battle of Grunwald in north-central Poland.
In Play: Today's Good Word may be used to refer to a slave: "Far too many women in developed and developing countries feel themselves a thrall to their husbands." It is used more often in referring to slavery itself: "Far too many millennials are in thrall to their smart phones."
Word History: This word was þræl "slave, slavery" in Old English, a word borrowed from Old Norse þræl "slave, servant" which went on to become modern Danish træl "slave" and Swedish träl "slave". The Old Norse word came from Proto-Germanic þrahiloz based on the root þreh- "to run", which showed up in Old High German as dregil "servant", earlier "runner". In Old English the word for "run" was þrægan and in Gothic, þragjan. We have no evidence of it beyond Old Germanic. (Susan Liddy-Gates, who claims that her client, Maude Lynn Dresser, was enthralled by her husband for 20 years by refusing to allow her access to his credit card, brought today's captivating Good Word to my attention.)