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The Nature of Words
January 2016

Reading a mystery recently, I came across a reference to tsouris. From the context it was clear that it meant woes or troubles. Of course I looked it up, and indeed that is the meaning. It also may be spelled tzuris or tsuris.

Random House indicates that this word came into usage in English only around 1970, and it's from the Yiddish tsures or tsores. The word trouble, much longer in English usage, came to our language in the late 12th, early 13th century, from Middle English troublen, through Old French troubler, by way of the Vulgar Latin turbulare. Waters clouded due to disturbed sediment are turbid, from the Latin turbidus.

This brought to mind of a couple words that may be homophones turban and turbine depending on your choice of pronunciation of the latter. Turbine arises from Latin turbin , stem of turbo, something that spins. From the same root comes turbinate, in usage since the mid-17th century, referring, for instance, to the whorled bones in nasal passages.

Turban, on the other hand, has an entirely different heritage. In use since the middle of the 16th century, this word meaning a wound fabric headdress came to us from the Turkish tülbent, by way of the Persian dulband.

To avoid trouble or tsouris, be mindful which word you use when referring to whorled machinery that whirls to generate electric current.

- Laurel Stoddard, CET


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