Traduce

February 3, 2017 ➳ Word of the day

To transfer; to transmit; to hand down.

Today’s word of the day is puzzling. Its first definition describes an act of slander. Its second, succession.

  1. verb. To malign a person or entity by making malicious and false or defamatory statements.
  2. verb. (archaic) To pass on or bequeath, e.g., to one’s children, future generations, etc.; to transmit.

The origin of traduce is traducere, meaning “to changeover” or “to convert.” Like many Latin terms, it’s easily cracked in two. Trans means “across,” as seen in category-crossing terms like transnational, transgender, or transpose. Ducere means “to lead.” It’s the root “duchess” and “duke.”

By the transitive property the addition of “Across” and “To lead” equals “To lead across”—itself a definition of traducere. “To lead in parade.”

A military general squints through his telescope. His soldiers behind him, a loyal hundred-thousand, await patiently. Their shuffling horses less so. They wait together at the edge of the territory. No drums, just birdsong. This is a surprise attack.

The silent signal—a sabre raised high—is heard loud and clear. The formation is ablaze. War is in transit.

It’s not hard to see how “lead a parade” could come to mean “lead a spectacle.” How the noble soldier becomes a stevedore of the most severe slander. This is war and it is history too. Both pack the past in a musket and take aim at the unwitting. They are a litany of our favorite prejudices, baked into bread and presented to an unsuspecting table. The past is as much insult as it is injury. Could be kinder perhaps, not to traduce this future.