What Trove Means?

Early in March 2015, The Guardian was a bit of a treasure trove for people interested in the English language. On Monday, March 2, the Corrections and Clarifications column said that “linguistic purists” were upset about the use of the phrase “Snowden trove” to describe the thousands of documents that Edward Snowden leaked. They said that trove can’t be used by itself; it must always be part of the compound noun treasure-trove. The Guardian’s style guide agrees.

At least since Roman times, people have thought that the state could claim valuables that were left behind or hidden by unknown people. The Latin word was thesaurus inventus, which seems strange to people who don’t know Latin since a thesaurus is a type of dictionary and to invent is to come up with something new. But “thesaurus” in Latin could mean “treasury,” and since a book is thought of as a storehouse of knowledge, the word has been used in English since at least the 1600s. And the Latin word “inventus” could mean either “discovered” or “made up.”

Up until the end of the Middle Ages, the Latin thesaurus inventus was still used. It was used along with the Anglo-Norman tresor trovĂ© after the Normans took over England. This became treasure found as the English language changed. Legal English, which likes old French words, preferred to translate it in a different way. For example, in 1567, a legal textbook said that valuable abandoned property belonged to the queen and was called a “treasure-trove.” Since the idea was legal, this form took the place of the other.

The adjective comes after the noun in a lot of French-based compound words, like governor-general, poet laureate, court-martial, heir apparent, letter patent, and knight errant. The Guardian style guide and careful English speakers seem to be right when they say that trove doesn’t exist on its own.

At least until we look at what the evidence says.

At least as early as the 1880s, people started using “trove” by itself to mean “hoard” or “valuable find.”

She realized how valuable her treasure was and looked for the best way to use it.

Rudyard Kipling wrote Plain Tales from the Hills in 1888.

As he looked at the treasure, his breath was hot and quick. It was a queen’s ransom, a fortune that even the owner couldn’t figure out.

The Brass Bowl was written in 1907 by Louis Joseph Vance.

By the 1920s, it was pretty common, but the language experts still didn’t recognize it. When Leonard Gribble put out a book of stories for kids called Story Trove in 1950, it was clear that it wasn’t thought to be terrible English. Not long after, this famous example came along:

Even if it seems unlikely to those who don’t know as much, the Wise may have good reason to think that the halfling’s treasure is the Great Ring of Long Debate.

The Fellowship of the Ring was written in 1954 by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Today, it’s a common word, but it’s often used to mean a collection of valuable things that aren’t physical (for example, an Australian newspaper database is called simply Trove):

But that would mean that the people in charge at Sony are very smart. Their huge collection of emails strongly suggests that’s not true.

Garden City Telegram (Kansas), 2 Jan. 2015.

It needs to realize that consumer services generate a lot of useful information.

The language has changed. Trove is used so often now that it can’t be written off as bad English. It’s in dictionaries (the Oxford English Dictionary has had an entry for it since 1989), but some people tell people who ask about it to look up treasure-trove instead. American people are more willing than British people to accept that “trove” is now a noun and a valid way to shorten “treasure-trove.” In its “Corrections and Clarifications” section, The Guardian even said, “Perhaps we should now accept that it’s a useful word on its own.” Indeed.

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