Did you know that’s the original form of control? I didn’t (or more precisely, I probably did at some point and later forgot). OED:

perh. a. F. contrôle, earlier contrerolle ‘the copie of a roll (of account, etc.), a paralell of the same qualitie and content with th’ originall; also, a controlling or ouerseeing’ (Cotgr.), corresp. to med.L. contrarotulus, f. contra against, counter (cf. CONTRA- 3) + rotulus ROLL. But, as the n. appears only about 1600 in Eng., and app. not in the original literal sense, but only as a noun of action, it was probably then formed immediately from the verb. A few examples of COUNTER-ROLL (q.v.) directly represent the Fr.

Johnson (copied in later Dicts.) has as first sense, but without quotation, ‘A register or account kept by another officer, that each may be examined by the other’. This J. retained from Bailey’s folio, where it was founded on the statement in Kersey’s Phillips, 1706, ‘properly, a Book, or Register, in which a Roll is kept of other Registers’. But this is merely an etymological remark, applicable to med.L. contrarotulus, and OF. contrerolle; there is no evidence that control was ever so used in Eng.: see COUNTER-ROLL.

Neat, huh?

By the way, I’m off to Cape Cod for a brief but much-needed vacation; I’ll be back Saturday evening.

Update (April 2020). The OED revisited the word for the Third Edition in December 2015; they now say the noun is apparently from the verb, adding:

Compare Anglo-Norman contreroulle, countrerolle, Anglo-Norman and Middle French contreroule, Middle French contrerole, contrerolle, French contrôle duplicate copy of a roll or other document, kept for purposes of cross-checking (end of the 13th cent. in Anglo-Norman, 1367 in continental French, although earlier currency is probably implied by contreroouller control v. and contrerolleur controller n.), verification (1419 as contreule), direction, management, surveillance (1580), originally < contre against (see counter prep.) + role, roole, roulle, etc. roll n.1, in later use (in senses relating to verification, checking, or direction) < contrôler control v.

Compare also post-classical Latin contrarotulus counter-roll, record kept by one official as a check on another (frequently from 1220 in British sources) < classical Latin contrā against, counter (see contra- prefix) + rotulus roll n.1

Compare counter-roll n., a calque on the French word, and earlier controller n.
Johnson (copied in later dictionaries) gives as first sense, but without exemplification by a quotation, ‘A register or account kept by another officer, that each may be examined by the other’. Johnson retained this sense from Bailey’s folio, where it was founded on the gloss in the 1706 edition of Phillips’s New World of Words, ‘properly, a Book, or Register, in which a Roll is kept of other Registers’. However, this is merely an etymological comment on the Latin and French nouns; there is no evidence that control was ever used in this sense in English (compare counter-roll n.).

About the verb they say the following:

Etymology: < Anglo-Norman counterouller, Anglo-Norman and Middle French contreroller, Middle French controler (French contrôler) to check or verify (an account, originally by comparison with a duplicate register) (c1310 in Anglo-Norman), to oversee, regulate (payments, expenses) (late 14th cent. or earlier), to check, verify (a fact, statement, etc.) (1437), apparently < contrerole, contrerolle, contreroulle control n. (although this is first attested slightly later than the verb).

Compare post-classical Latin contrarotulare to check by means of a counter-roll (frequently from late 13th cent. in British sources), Old Occitan contrarolar.

Compare earlier controller n.
Senses 3 [To exercise power or authority over; to determine the behaviour or action of, to direct or command; to regulate or govern] and 4 [To restrain from action, hold in check; (in later use) esp. to curb the growth or spread of] are not paralleled in French until considerably later and do not appear to have become established in French until the late 19th cent. (although there is an isolated attestation in the 17th cent.); they may have been borrowed into French from English.


  1. What, no control freaks around here?
    It seems to me the “counter-roll” sense of the word survives in the term “controller,” meaning the chief accounting or auditing officer of a business or institution. “Controls” in accounting usage refer to doublechecks that tell you, basically, that the account books are right and employees are not stealing because two separate people using different methodology agree on a bottom line, for example in an inventory control. Here’s some verbiage from a bean-counter on accounting controls: It seems to me the “counter-roll” sense also comes up in the usage “control group” in a scientific experiment.

  2. I am now working on a system for $MAJOR_BANK that is classified as ‘controls’; it looks at transactions to see if anything bad has happened to them (for example, if one has been deleted, which shouldn’t happen). The monitoring system is called Sentinel, the browser for bad transactions is called Warden.

  3. The OED has updated the entry, so I have updated the post.

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