Printable Version
Pronunciation: ri-treev Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: 1. To get back, recover, regain, as 'to retrieve the borrowed book'. 2. To fetch, to find and bring to some spot or place, as 'The dog retrieved the duck.' 3. To recall, remember, as 'to retrieve from memory'.

Notes: Don't forget the 'I-before-E except after C' rule when spelling this word. The noun and adjective accompanying this verb are the participle, retrieving. The verb alone may be used as a noun: a retrieve is the retrieved object. A retriever is a dog bred and trained to fetch downed game.

In Play: The first sense of today's Good Word is to get something back: "Ally Katz retrieved the check from her husband before he could cash it." The second sense does not involve something we once had, but the process of fetching: "Harold shot a duck, but his $800 hunting dog retrieved a wooden decoy." Finally, the first sense applied to memory: "When asked his address, Bud Weiser's befuddled mind could not retrieve it." Presumably we retrieve from memory what we once put there.

Word History: Today's word in Middle English was retreven from Old French retreuver built from re- "again" + trouver "to find". Where the French word trouver comes from is a bit fuzzy. It seems to have originated in an Old Provençal word trobar "to compose, invent", which could be stretched to "to find". If so, it goes back to Latin tropus, from which our word trope "turn of phrase, figure of speech" derives. The Latin word was borrowed from Greek tropos "turn (of phrase), figure (of speech)". Trobar still exists in a few Romanic languages: French trouver and Italian trovare. Some have speculated trobar was formed by metathesis from Latin turbare "to disturb", through the sense "turn up". French has a verb troubler "to disrupt", inherited from Late Latin turbulare. So we have another example where we know metathesis occurred in a similar French word. (At this point we should retrieve a note of thanks for Ellen Adams, who recommended today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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