Your RDA of Irony


The following story is true.  One name has been changed to protect the guilty, although I don’t know why I am bothering.  I would win the libel suit.

The proud parents insisted on showing me their son’s business card.  It identified him as a financial analyst at a firm called “Tradere.”  The card also offered a lesson in Latin.  “Tradere means trader!”  I probably was expected to be impressed; courtesy at least required a simpering smile.  However, my response was “That’s wrong.”

I explained to the stunned parents that the Latin word for trade is “mercari.”  It is the root and etymological ancestor of such words as merchant, market and mercenary.  It even provided the Romans with the name of a God:  Fleet-footed and sleight-of-hand, Mercury was the patron of traders…and thieves.

The father, having accumulated a flotsam of facts in his doctoral studies, grudgingly agreed with my translation.  But his wife, in the fiercest tradition of the Jewish mother insisted “But it says so on the business card!”  Her son’s card had to be infallible.  What was the basis of the word “trader”?  This linguistic dispute occurred in my home, so I was only a few steps away from my office–with its shelves of reference works.  After a few minute absence, during which I was probably subjected to maternal wrath, I returned with the answers.

Our word “trade” is derived from the Angle-Saxon “trada” which means “tread.”  The nature of honest labor has its element of drudgery, and the working conditions of the Dark Ages further dampened the soul.  Ready for today’s 12 hours of serfdom!  You would more likely tread than skip to your labors.  Over time–nine centuries of the Middle Ages–the plodding, weary resignation became synonymous with work itself.  Some vocations involved the exchange of goods, and the noun evolved into the verb “trade.”  That is the etymology of the word, and Latin had nothing to do with it.

But I could offer this solace: “tradere” really is a Latin word.  As any Roman or Jesuit could tell you, it means to betray.  “Tradere” is the ancestor of our words traitor and treason.  Given the history of financial firms, the company’s name might be accurate but unwise to advertise.  Yet, checking its website the following day, I saw the proclamation means “Tradere means trader!”  Several months later, I revisited the website.  The company had not changed its name but now had a more modest assertion:  “Tradere loosely translate to trader.”  Yes, very loosely, in the same way that the word murder loosely translates to “Hello.”  Just the other day, I again visited the website and now saw that Tradere offered no explanation of its name.

As for the young man with the business cards, he now has the reputation in his company of being a classical scholar.

Remind me to blackmail him.



  1. wayne rhodes says:

    They should know better: Non ludere circa cum Eugene.

    • Eugene Finerman says:


      I would seem even more trickproof if you used my Latin name: Eugenius.

      The Aforementioned

  2. Tom Kelso says:

    I have often suggested you to maternal wrath; I have had as much success suggesting the pugs to feline grace.

    Rather than subject the pedant to abuse, I instead offer the suggest to proofread.

    Thomas O’Quinine

    • Eugene Finerman says:

      Sorry, Tom, I must have given up proofreading for Lent.

      And pugs really are quite feline. They are likable cats.


      • Tom Kelso says:

        Consider it an occupational hazard; something akin to a golfer having to go to a public event where there might be Democratic politicians around, or something else they would find icky.

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