It sounds that distracting and being on the right track are related not only by meaning but also by common roots. Is the track that we see in distracting related etymologically to the track in the word track?

track (n.) Look up track at Dictionary.com late 15c., "footprint, mark left by anything," from Old French trac "track of horses, trace" (mid-15c.), possibly from a Germanic source (compare Middle Low German treck, Dutch trek "drawing, pulling;" see trek). Meaning "lines of rails for drawing trains" is from 1805. Meaning "branch of athletics involving a running track" is recorded from 1905. Meaning "single recorded item" is from 1904, originally in reference to phonograph records. Meaning "mark on skin from repeated drug injection" is first attested 1964.

distract (v.) Look up distract at Dictionary.com mid-14c., "to draw asunder or apart, to turn aside" (literal and figurative), from Latin distractus, past participle of distrahere "draw in different directions," from dis- "away" (see dis-) + trahere "to draw" (see tract (n.1)).

tract (n.1) Look up tract at Dictionary.com "area," mid-15c., "period or lapse of time," from Latin tractus "track, course, space, duration," lit, "a drawing out or pulling," from stem of trahere "to pull, draw," from PIE root *tragh- "to draw, drag, move" (cognates: Slovenian trag "trace, track," Middle Irish tragud "ebb;" perhaps with a variant form *dhragh-; see drag (v.)). The meaning "stretch of land or water" is first recorded 1550s. Specific U.S. sense of "plot of land for development" is recorded from 1912; tract housing attested from 1953.

I see no clear connection in the sources. The dictionary says that tract originated from track in 15c whereas track was derived from trek only in 19c. This does not make sense at all!

  • 1
    When you look in reference materials for the etymology of distract, what do you see? Can you edit your question to add those references and why the reference information doesn't tell you what you want to know? Etymonline.com is an easy to use reference for this kind of question.
    – jejorda2
    Commented Nov 3, 2015 at 16:21
  • If you google "etymology of distract" and "etymology of track" you will find the answer quite quickly. :-)
    – Nonnal
    Commented Nov 3, 2015 at 16:30
  • @Nonnal Yes, I see my question in google. There was no way to solve my problem before I posted it! Commented Nov 3, 2015 at 17:05
  • I just meant that Google.com has a nice etymology search feature. In any event, nice update to your original post. It is extremely common in English for two words with similar spellings to come from different roots.
    – Nonnal
    Commented Nov 3, 2015 at 17:36


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.