There are quite a few discussions online about whether one can "trawl through" or "troll through", looking for something. From what I can see, both are fishing terms so both are legitimate in particular contexts.

What I was hoping was to clarify which of the two specifically means "work hard", as in: "I had to [trawl/troll] through lots of archives to find what I wanted". A guide I'm reading has the following phrase, which I suspect is used incorrectly: "without trolling through each script to find all the files they call"


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    Now, I'd associate troll with walking, as in Tra, la! Mr 'Orn. How bona to vada your dolly old eek. Troll in!
    – TRiG
    Aug 14 '13 at 18:58

Trawl and troll are both fishing methods. Trolling is when you drag a line behind a slowly moving boat. Trawling is trolling with a net.

Trawling is more likely to be associated with commercial fishing and a large catch, so I would guess this would equally imply harder work than trolling, although the terms refer more to the idea of catching something than they do to how difficult that endeavor is, so either term would work in your context.

Trolling, on the other hand, can also mean baiting someone online, so it might cause confusion or have a negative connotation.

That said, I think you would be understood best if you said something like "I had to trawl each script to find the called files."

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    Trawling is dragging a net across the whole area to catch a fish. It is more applicable because the analogy is to cover all the ground to find one piece of info.
    – JamesRyan
    Aug 14 '13 at 19:27

I honestly can't remember ever hearing the term "trawl/troll though". Generally, I hear people say/write "go(ing) though each script".

Edit: As Kristina pointed out in a comment to this answer, "to comb through" is often used to specify checking something carefully. my guess is this stems from "To go over with a fine tooth comb".

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    . . .or to imply a very careful search, I've heard "combing through each script". Aug 14 '13 at 17:40
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    Good catch. I've used that saying plenty of times...
    – Jacobm001
    Aug 14 '13 at 17:42
  • You've never heard of trawling through something? It's a perfectly common, natural, even colloquial expression to me. Trolling through is not something I've heard, but trawling through, definitely. Apr 2 '15 at 13:56
  • @Janus that is correct. I have still never heard the term.
    – Jacobm001
    Apr 2 '15 at 15:54

I believe that 'trawling through', as in searching through (and this can be online or in the 'real' world') is the more common term.

'Trolling through' would not be recognised by many people as a 'fishing' term unlike 'trawl'.

Also the word 'troll' has come to more recognisably mean someone who posts offensive/annoying/provocative comments online, so the use of 'trolling through' I believe would imply something more negative than simply searching.

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    It's much better not to give an unsupported answer on ELU (or indeed on any StackExchange site). These Google Ngrams seem to indicate that 'trolling through' was more commonly used than 'trawling through' for about 50% of the 20th Century. But 'trawling' is indeed the more usual choice nowadays. Apr 2 '15 at 13:39
  • In addition this does not seem to add anything that wasn't already mentioned in Kit's answer from nearly 2 years prior.
    – TylerH
    Aug 3 '20 at 19:20

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