Saturday, July 19, 2008


The word 'distribution' is not unfamiliar enough to deserve a Word of the Day post. But it is a word with a curious history. The root of 'distribution' is the Latin word tribus, which means 'one of three divisions'. It is said to derive from the fact that the Romans were always divided into three factions (hence a relationship exists with things like 'tribune', one of three magistrates, and 'trivia', the three-fold path of knowledge).

The English descendant of tribus is of course the word 'tribe', and a 'tribute' is the payment or dispensation given to a tribe. A 'contribution' is the amount given, an 'attribution' is the given source of what is contributed, and a 'distribution' is the way in which the contributions are divided.

Today I was looking at examination papers and the distribution of questions therein. It struck me that a hefty toll had been demanded, and that many had paid their way in blood, sweat, toil and tears — a thoroughly Churchillian phrase which left me thinking of his great work The Island Race and the many tribes which had merged to make one mighty stream of history.

And then the vision passed and I could only think of the sediment deposited and the rubble strewn across the banks of time.

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