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Friday, December 16, 2011

Sorry, I CAN'T get it for you wholesale

It is the busiest retail season of the year. “Retail” comes from the Old French verb retaillier (cut again). The literal idea was that the merchant would get a huge hunk of cheese or something else whole (hence “wholesale”), then cut smaller bits off it to sell retail. The root word in retaillier (from the Latin talea, a cut stick) is also found in the word “tailor”, literally a cutter of clothes, and in “tally”, originally a stick with notches cut into it to record the amount of a debt or payment.


  1. Hello,

    I am happy to read your post.

    I know Italian has this basic "cut" word, and so does Romanian.

    Thank you.

  2. Thank you, and Merry Christmas! Your regular snippets of enlightenment are a true delight. It's a little jolt of illumination to learn whence "wholesale" comes, after never having thought about it before. Again, gratefully yours,
    Michele L.

  3. In the forties, my sister worked in a grocery store.A wheel of cheddar cheese was kept under a glass dome. Mr Eckmeier (prop.) or my sister would cut a wedge of the size the customer wanted, weigh it, and wrap it.


About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.