Today Dom introduced me to a new podcast called Word Nerds.
One of the regular features is a rude word of the day. Today’s was “troll.”
They explained that “troll” is currently used to describe a person who intentionally says rude or insulting things in an online forum to bait other readers into responding. They have no other purpose than to provoke outrage and reaction. Then they explained the roots of the word troll come originally from a French word meaning to wander aimlessly, and that in English was used to describe hunting without a particular prey in mind. Also used in fishing, meaning to trail a line behind a boat.
I was fascinated by the etymology of this word since I had always associated it with the supernatural creatures of Scandanavian folklore. While I certainly am aware of the verbal meaning of troll associated with fishing, it never occured to me that that was the origin of the internet usage. Though that definition certainly made sense to me once I heard it. I’m a relative newcomer to internet terminology.
And I think many people use the word troll with that intent. I’ve rarely seen it used as a verb, and when I did I assumed it was a verb created from the noun. I’ve seen people refer to someone as acting like a troll, asking people to not feed the trolls, etc. Clearly from the way they use the word as a noun they aren’t thinking in terms of hunting and fishing.
While this is probably a sort of retronym—attaching a secondary definition that was not intended by the original coiners of the word—still, I wonder if the original verb would have stuck if the secondary meaning hadn’t created such an effective image. I always think of these guys as the nasty troll under the bridge from The Three Billy Goats Gruff, lying in wait to lure innocent passersby into a confrontation.