Undisturbed amid what we know of turmoil

A look at turmoil, turbulence, and tumult and other words for ‘trouble’: Do they share common roots – or just closely related meanings?

VIA Motors/MKT
Bob Lutz unveils the world's first full-size electric pick-up truck by VIA Motors.

It is the best of times, and it is the worst of times, as Dickens would have agreed, had he been following the same news feed as the rest of us. Here in New England we’ve been enjoying a glorious summer that promises to go into extra innings, perhaps as a kind of war reparations from the weather gods after this past winter.

But we’re also following fires and floods out West as well as the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War II, plus the wars and terrorism that are turning people into refugees in the first place. 

Is it any wonder I’ve wanted to learn more about the word turmoil?

Scholars, alas, are uncertain about its derivation. But its meaning is clear: “A state of confusion or disorder,” to cite Merriam-Webster. And turmoil shows up as part of the definition for a gaggle of “t” words related in meaning, even if not in etymology.

Puzzling over these has reminded me of two young ladies, evidently from Australia, whom I had an opportunity to study in a slow-moving passport line during my late-summer travels: Are they actually sisters, or do they just spend so much time together that they dress alike and move alike and perhaps, to infer from the steady forward gaze they both seemed to maintain, even think alike?

Back to etymology. There’s turbulent, a go-to adjective for the stock market of late, rooted in a Latin word turba, meaning crowd or turmoil. There’s an idea of “spinning” in there, too, as of a top. Turbulence has meant “atmospheric eddies that affect airplanes,” as the Online Etymology Dictionary explains, since 1918.

The same root shows up in turbid, “muddy, full of confusion.” Disturb is another word in this group. Dis often means “not,” as in dishonest. But it can also serve as an intensifier, “utterly” or “completely.” To be “disturbed” is, etymologically, to be utterly confused by a tumultuous crowd.

Ah, tumultuous – another “t” word. The Online Etymology Dictionary traces this adjective to a Latin equivalent meaning “full of bustle or confusion, disorderly, turbulent.” And if turbulence is rooted in notions of “spinning” and “confusion,” tumultuous is rooted in the idea of “swelling.”

Turmoil itself? The Oxford English Dictionary cites a theory that it’s a borrowing from the Old French tremouille, a mill hopper. 

The Online Etymology Dictionary notes that the French word is thought to derive from the Latin trimodia, an adjective signifying a capacity of three measures. 

The measure of capacity, it seems, became the name of the thing, as when people sometimes refer to a light-duty pickup truck as “a half-ton.” The term indicates payload, not vehicle weight.

The shape of the hopper – narrower at the bottom – means that the grains fed in jump or “hop” around, jostling for position. 

Please excuse the anthropomorphism. But if the mill-hopper theory is correct, this is what creates “turmoil.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Undisturbed amid what we know of turmoil
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today