The travails of travel

The hardships and difficulties of travel during the Middle Ages is reflected in the etymology of the word "travel." Today, we may complain about delayed departures, lost luggage, and late arrivals. But back then, travelers often had to contend with the weariness that comes from very long and dangerous journeys. Arduous conditions were also often the case when the devoted made pilgrimages to distant shrines.

Travel comes from the French travail, meaning work or labor, as in the labor of childbirth. And travail derives from the Latin tripalium - a kind of rack for torture purposes. One would hope that no journey could have been that uncomfortable, but the root of the word suggests it. Once accepted into the English language, travel came to mean a journey.

SOURCES: 'The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology,' by Robert Barnhart; 'A Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage,' by B. and C. Evans; Webster's Word Histories.

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