Printable Version
Pronunciation: kahl-por-têr Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A wandering distributor of religious or political brochures or fly-sheets, a peddler with a tray hanging from his neck.

Notes: The activity of a colporteur is colportage which, despite sounds and appearances, has nothing to do with the output of the American composer, Cole Porter, or the carrying of coal. The noun may also be used as a verb, e.g. to colporteur religious tracts around the countryside.

In Play: Today's word is most widely used in reference to the distribution of religious literature: "Intrepid colporteurs bore the Bible to every bar and other house of shady character in the city on their quest to vanquish Satan from every den of iniquity they could find." However, this word may refer to any sort of book peddler if not any sort of peddler at all, "He colporteured encyclopedias from door to door all summer in St. Louis."

Word History: Today's word is an alteration of Old French comporteur from comporter "to conduct, peddle". The M became L by analogy with col "neck", since peddlers of yore bore their wares on trays suspended from straps around their necks. Latin portare "carry" is the origin of our borrowings porter, port, and comport. Collar is related to the French word for "neck" mentioned above. Col and collar are offspring of Latin collum "neck", a word with a rich etymological heritage. The same original PIE word was prefixed in Old English to become hweogol, which later was reduced to wheel. With a suffix -s, it became Russian koleso "wheel" and German Hals "neck". We can also see it in Russian and Serbian okolo "around".

Dr. Goodword,

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