• tractable •
træk-tê-bêl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Malleable, ductile, easily worked, molded, and shaped. 2. Manageable, compliant, persuadable.
Notes: Today's word is used so much more often in its negated form, intractable, that you may think intractable an orphan negative. It isn't. Moreover, it comes with an adverb, tractably, and a noun, tractability.
In Play: The original meaning of this word is "soft, easily shaped": "Every jewel thief knows that gold is a tractable metal, especially when it's hot." These terms apply equally to people who are easily persuaded: "Don't ask mom, ask granddad: he's more tractable."
Word History: Tractable comes directly from Latin (not passing through French) tractabilis "that may be handled or managed" from tractare "to handle, manage". We borrowed this word again after French had worked its magic converting it to traitier. English borrowed it as (to) treat. Of course, English noun trait came from the same source. Tractare is a variant of trahere "draw, drag". Old Norse inherited the same word from Proto-Indo-European as thrall, which English also borrowed in the sense of "slave". (Who would be more tractable than a slave?) So, the original meaning of enthrall is "enslave". (Let's now all thank Mark Bailey, a neither tractable nor intractable Grand Panjandrum of the Alpha Agora, for suggesting today's Good Word.)
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