Printable Version
Pronunciation: trais Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. (Obsolete) Windlass, pulley. 2. (Obsolete) A tug on a windlass or pulley. 3. An instant, moment, very short period of time.

Notes: This word is now only used in the idiomatic expressions 'in a trice' and 'on a trice', meaning simply "very quickly, forthwith". 'At a trice' and 'with a trice' are now outdated. This word also functions as a verbal alternate for hoist, raise or lift, as in 'trice the ladder up' or 'trice the sail up'.

In Play: While the meaning of the phrase 'in a trice' is simply "very quickly", the timing itself may vary materially: "When the sulfur Grimaldi had placed on the radiator began to smell, the dance floor emptied in a trice." The verbal sense is still around, though rarely encountered: "Lonny triced up the window shade to see what sort of day he faced."

Word History: This word's meaning moved from (1) above to (2), thence to (3). The noun apparently was borrowed from Middle Dutch trisen "hoist" or trise "pulley". Hence 'at a tryse', as the phrase stood in the mid-15th century seems to have meant literally "at a single tug". The Middle Dutch word is the source of Dutch trijsen "to hoist", Danish trisse "pulley" and, apparently, German triezen "to pester". The origin of the Middle Dutch word is unknown. The later phrase 'in a trice' recalls the Spanish en un tris "instantly", literally "in a crack", but the English phrase 'at a trice' appears too early for Spanish influence. (We have only a trice to thank Rob Towart for thinking of this delicious little Good Word and sharing it with us.)

Dr. Goodword,

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