trank

I’m currently reading American Pastoral by Philip Roth. It’s a well-written book that covers in detail a certain part of the American experience, a part that happens in many but not all details to match Roth’s (the same chronotopes show up over and over again in his works). It has a central story that can grab you and pull you, but it also makes detours off that highway to explore in detail surrounding aspects of the characters’ lives and experiences. I have just finished reading I don’t even know how many pages about glovemaking, since the focal character owns a glove factory that he took over from his father. Honestly, as well written as it is, it can have a bit of a trance-inducing or even tranquilizing effect at times.

One word that comes up time and time again is trank. This is not related to tank or rank or track or trunk, not to trinket or trance or drank either. It refers to a piece of leather used in a glove. To be exact, it is the piece of leather from which the glove is cut, and trank is also used to name that piece of cut leather that is shaped like the hand, minus the thumb and the smaller pieces that join front and back. A glove is made with two of these latter tranks, one for palm and one for back.

It’s therefore an English word, even though very few Anglophones will know it. It’s industry-specific vocabulary. English, like any natural language, is really a language system – there are different modules available, different levels of play, different styles for different settings. It’s sort of like Dungeons & Dragons or Advanced Squad Leader or any of numerous more recent game systems. This word is from the glovemaking expansion kit. But you get to toss it in outside of that context… as long as you can come up with an excuse for it and a way to make sure your audience understands what it means.

I think it has a rather rank and dank and angular taste for what it is, a name for a smooth piece of finished leather. What’s more, the origin of the word is uncertain. One reasonable guess is that it comes from French tranche ‘slice, piece’, misread. But wherever it has come from, it came to be the piece that fits its place, so there it is.

By the way, there’s another word trank in English. It’s short for tranquilizer.

One response to “trank

  1. From your comments about the novel, it sounds like the last definition is the most appropriate!🙂

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