Formerly known as Ishmael.

Dear Word Detective:  This is a bit of a cheat as there are probably three questions in one here.  Staring at the word “lorry” the other day, I realized it was pretty ridiculous.  Our “lorry” is your “truck” and neither seem to have any clear origin.  Then, of course, we say we are having “no truck” with something, meaning that we don’t want to have anything to do with it.  Are there any explanations for “lorry,” “truck” and “truck”? — David, Ripon, Yorkshire, England.

Hey, you’re right.  I’ve just spent a few minutes staring at “lorry” and it is indeed a very silly word for a vehicle.  “Lorry” sounds more like the name of a small, useless fish.  But I may not be a good judge of such things, because I get the same feeling after a few minutes of staring at my own name.  That cannot possibly be my name.  My real name is Frank, or Joe.  Vinny?  Something beginning with a consonant, that’s for sure.  I’m sure I’ll remember it soon.

I would, however, say that your “lorry” is a much nicer-sounding word than our “truck,” which strikes me as the kind of sound you’d make if you were beaned with a softball.  Compared to “truck,” “lorry” is positively euphonious.  Unfortunately, as you have apparently discovered, the roots of “lorry” are a bit mysterious.  Actually, they are very mysterious, and the best guess is that it comes from the obsolete English dialect term “lurry,” meaning “to carry or drag along.”  Unfortunately (again), no one knows where “lurry” came from either, so the trail goes cold at that point.  We do know that “lorry” first appeared in print in the early 19th century meaning “a long, low wagon,” and by 1911 had acquired its modern meaning of “a large motor vehicle used to carry cargo.”

Compared to the fog surrounding “lorry,” the roots of “truck” in the “large vehicle” sense  are satisfyingly clear.  “Truck,” which first appeared in English around 1611 meaning “small wheel or roller” (specifically the sort mounted under cannons aboard warships), is a shortened form of the older word “truckle,” meaning “wheel, roller or pulley,” which appeared in the 15th century and was derived from the Latin “trochlea,” meaning “pulley.”  The first use of “truck” in print in its modern sense of “wheeled vehicle used for transporting heavy items” came in 1774.

When we say that we want to “have no truck with” someone or something, we are using a “truck” completely unrelated to the vehicle kind of “truck.”  When this sort of “truck” first entered English around 1225, derived from the French “troquer,” it meant simply “to exchange something with someone else.”  By the 1400s we were using it to mean “to barter, to sell or exchange commodities for profit,” and, by the 17th century, “truck” had taken on the its more general modern sense of “to have dealings with.”  Today this “truck” is almost always found in the negative phrase “to have no truck with,” i.e., to have no dealings or social contact with (“Mebbe your Ma’s right. Mebbe you hadn’t ought to have no truck with the Forresters,” M.K. Rawlings, The Yearling, 1938).

Incidentally, the one place you’re likely to find that old “sale or barter” sense of “truck” still being used is in the phrase “truck farm,” meaning a small farm producing vegetables, etc., for sale rather than the owner’s own use.

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