• terrier •
ter-ri-yêr • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. Small feisty dog originally used for hunting small game that hides in burrows, known for their tenacity. 2. (Historical) A register of landed property.
Notes: The second meaning of this word surprised me, especially its use in 2010. However, modern usage seems to be limited to old legal documents. The dog called "terrier" is the only modern use. Like all uncommonized animal names, this one comes to us from the lexical orphanage.
In Play: When we hear this word, all English-speakers think of dogs: "Alwyn Rowbottom of Tullamore has been showing his terriers for the past five years." However, since they are known for their tenacity, we often hear the word in similes: "Roche worked like a terrier on Mills's campaign to keep the park for posterity." The second sense is used today only in historical contexts: "She found a 17th-century terrier of her ancestors in an old tin box in the attic."
Word History: Today's Good Word is the French adjective terrier "pertaining to the earth, land, dirt" used as a noun. The earliest usage of this word is Old French chien terrier "earth dog", but by Middle French it was joined by the phrases registre terrier "land register" and papier terrier "rent roll". Terrier was inherited by French from Medieval Latin terrarius "of earth, land", the adjective from Latin terra "earth, land", demised to Latin from PIE ters- "(to) dry", which also underlies English thirst and German Durst "thirst". Toast in Middle English was tosten without the R. It was borrowed from Old French toster, from Vulgar Latin tostare, the frequentative of Latin torrere "to parch, burn". (Now, let's all give a gracious nod to our constant companion of many years Jackie Strauss, who saw linguistic possibilities in the name of her pet's breed.)
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