Today’s etymology: tender ‘a boat for communication or transportation between shore and a larger ship; a car attached to a steam locomotive for carrying a supply of fuel and water’ is short for attender: it’s a boat or train car that attends another one. (OED citation: 1825 MACLAREN Railways 32 note, A small waggon bearing water and coals follows close behind the engine, and is called the Tender, i.e. the ‘Attender’.) Simple and obvious once you know it, but I hadn’t known it.

Another t word: tee (the thing you hit the golf ball off of) was teaz in 17th-century Scotland (1673 Wedderburn’s Vocab. 37, 38 (Jam.) Baculus, Pila clavaria, a goulfe-ball. Statumen, the Teaz), so it was presumably reanalyzed like pease > pea, but nobody knows where teaz came from.


  1. Why, do you think, do the attenders at conferences refer to themselves as “attendees”?

  2. Good question—never occurred to me!

  3. fimus scarabaeus says

    You may leave an attendee behind but never……

  4. From the French — they’re waiting for it to be over. Wait, wait, wait.

  5. @dearieme: I can’t explain “why,” but there are a number of “-ee” nouns indicating agents (standee, attendee, retiree, escapee, etc.). One common factor is that in no case is there a human patient, so it partly resembles the ergative-absolutive system found in certain languages, but I can’t say whether that’s a meaningful resemblance or not.

  6. Nothing to do with French. An attendee is not someone who waits (although this often happens) but a person being attended by others. This is indeed a type of absolutive (a rare thing in English). The -ee words do not indicate “agents”, which can only be defined in relation to “patients” or “objects” upon which they are acting. You could call them “experiencers”: things happen to them but they are not actively doing something to others.
    While we are on this track, I have wondered about the word mentee meaning the person being supervised by a mentor. The mentor is not “menting” anyone but “mentoring” them, so the object of this attention should be a “mentoree” – but mentee is what I have seen and heard.

  7. Sorry, I forgot that the point was about attending a conference. But you can’t use attender in this context as the persons attending are not actually doing anything involving others. They don’t even have to listen as listeners do – just to be there, just like the standees on the bus. I guess this has to do with whether the verbs are active (eg listen, speak) or stative (eg stand), but this can’t be the whole thing. Consider a sitter: this is not just someone who is sitting but someone who is sitting with somebody as an attendant: hence a baby-sitter. The people sitting in the audience at a play or concert cannot be called sitters (sittees anyone ?). Is anyone doing their MA in linguistics on this topic?

  8. Siganus Sutor says

    Always tender* is the night, that’s understood, but who knows whether to find a lover you should look at “la Carte du Tendre” or “la Carte de Tendre“?
    * “soft, easily injured,” c.1225, from O. Fr. tendre “soft, delicate, tender” (11c.) (etymonline)

  9. In fact the whole -er and -ee system fits perfectly with the ergative-absolutive system: -er is ergative, -ee is absolutive. See my Cthulhu-based tutorial.

  10. I do not believe, sir, that Cthulhu is ever “embarrassed.” I suggest “Cthulhu dropped the watermelon and was enraged.”

  11. In Hebrew tender (טנדר) means pickup truck. Such words usually originate from English. Random House Unabridged says “a car attached to a steam locomotive for carrying fuel and water”. I wonder if this is the etymology.

  12. Of course, there is also a “bar tender”, who tends the bar. (Kind of too straightforward for this blog, I know).

  13. It is an old joke here in Finland, especially among toy train buffs, to translate Elvis’s Love Me Tender as Rakasta minua, hiilivaunu (“love me, coal-wagon”).

  14. Thomas the Train’s cohorts include tenders called Edward, James, and Gordon. My two-year-old nephew has taught me a lot about trains in the last six months.

  15. Would that be Thomas the Tank Engine, or does he have an American guise?

  16. Yes, that’s Thomas the Tank Engine. My almost-four-year-old grandson is a fan as well.

  17. As we know, the English word “tank”, first attested in 1498, can be traced back to the Gujerati word “tānk’h”. (From Gujerati it can, of course, be traced back to a Dravidian original.)

  18. That turns out to be shaky; it may be at least partly < estanque ‘stagnant’. The complex OED2 etymology in full.

    As everyone kno, the White Star Line’s liners were Titanic[*], Britannic[**], and Olympic[***]. Not so well kno are the names of their tenders, Nomadic[****], and Traffic[*****].

    [*] Iceberg.

    [**] German mine.

    [***] Scrapped after 24 years of increasingly unprofitable service.

    [****] In an open-air museum in Belfast, the last surviving White Star Line ship of any class.

    [*****] Torpedoed by the British Navy, ironically. It had been sold to a French company, who scuttled it in Cherbourg harbor in advance of the German invasion; the Germans refloated it and put it into naval service as a coastal patroller.

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