vectigal

For many people, the vectigal is a galling vector, a vehicle for conveying vexation, oft inveighed against. Oh, it is taxing. But why?

Because it is taxing. Taxation. Tax. Most specifically it is a kind of tax or tribute to the government that was imposed by Rome on its subjects, but it has gained a broader sense than that: dues you pay to the government for the right to use those things the government has paid for. You know, roads, utilities, police forces, that kind of thing. People have no problem with paying private organizations for similar services and privileges, and have no problem with mutual funds and buyers’ clubs and similar joint efforts to save money through oligopsony, but as soon as it’s government getting the money compulsorily (well, you could always renounce your citizenship and move elsewhere, but that seems drastic), many people resent it, even though it pays for things they inevitably benefit from.

But let us evade that discussion and return to the word. Vectigal is a noun, even though it looks like an adjective (there is an obsolete adjectival form, but it’s… obsolete). It comes from Latin, of course, and is unchanged. The plural, in case you want it, is vectigalia. If you expected a Latin source vectigalis, as –alis is often the source of English –al, you may be happy to learn that it exists. It is the genitive of vectigal.

And where does vectigal come from? It’s a derived form of the verb veho, which means ‘I carry, bear, transport, convey’; it is the source of the veh in vehicle, the vey in convey, and even the veigh in inveigh. Its derived and related forms also give us vector, convection, convex, and even veterinarian, among others. It is, in other words, itself a vehicle or vector for many meanings in many forms.

But for all the use and value we get out of all its derivates, almost no one now knows this verb veho – or wants anything to do with vectigal, so isolated as to be nearly vestigial lexically. It is like a little nightingale, singing madrigals in its dark corner but mistaken for a magpie or gull by those with no ear for it, a victim of its choice of tribute.

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