Printable Version
Pronunciation: træ-mêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, verb

Meaning: 1. Restraint, impediment, or hindrance to progress, activity, or freedom. 2. A net for catching birds or fish. 3. Pothook for a fireplace crane. 4. A compass-like instrument with two moveable sliding parts on a beam for drawing circles and ellipses. 5. (Verb) Enmesh, trap as in a net.

Notes: This word is often confused with trample. The first 12 examples at contain 5 such misuses. Trammel usually refers to nets or things that nets do. Don't forget the E precedes the L in this word. Someone who trammels is a trammeler and, in the distant past, a hairnet was called a trammelet. This noun may be used as a verb meaning "to capture in a net".

In Play: As a noun, it means "restriction, constraint": "Sidney could only relax on her vacations far from the trammels of work." As a verb it is commonly used in expressions like this: "Rodney Hine-Maiti had no wish for his art to be trammeled by convention."

Word History: Today's Good Word entered English in late Middle English in sense 2 of the noun. It was taken from Old French tramail, created from a medieval Latin variant of trimaculum "three-layered fish net". This word was created from tri "three" + macula "spot, stain; mesh". Latin inherited tri from PIE trei- "three", source also of three, German drei, Greek treis, Latin tres, French trois, Dutch drie, Polish trzy, Russian tri, Romanian trei, Welsh tri, and Czech tři. Macula came to mean "mesh" presumably from the gaps in a net resembling spots. The trail to the origin of this word is trammeled by the fogs of history. We do know that macula in Italian today is macchia "spot, stain", as in espresso macchiato "espresso with a spot of milk". (Gratitude now is due Jonjuan Palmary, who has been recommending fascinating Good Words like today's since 2008.)

Dr. Goodword,

P.S. - Register for the Daily Good Word E-Mail! - You can get our daily Good Word sent directly to you via e-mail in either HTML or Text format. Go to our Registration Page to sign up today!