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De­sar­rol­lar and Roll, Con­trol

De­sar­rol­lar (Span­ish for “to de­vel­op”) comes from the Latin roots des- (“re­ver­sal”) and ro­tu­lus (“a roll of pa­per”).

This im­plies a few in­ter­est­ing ques­tions. First, how do we get from a “roll of pa­per” to “de­vel­op­ing”? The sto­ry is fun: the Latin ro­tu­lus (“roll of pa­per”) evolved in­to the Span­ish ar­rol­lar, mean­ing “to crush, de­stroy”. Per­haps be­cause you need to de­stroy a tree to cre­ate a scroll? Per­haps pa­per de­stroys the sa­cred oral tra­di­tion? Per­haps the words on pa­per have the pow­er to de­stroy? Per­haps de­struc­tion is caused by moder­ni­ty, by the wheel it­self (since ro­tu­lus was of­ten used to mean “wheel”)?

The con­ser­v­a­tive­ness of the word, how­ev­er, dou­bles down. Over time, how­ev­er, it be­came more com­mon to use ar­rol­lar with the neg­a­tive (des-) pre­fix. So, de­vel­op­ment in Span­ish is re­al­ly just not de­stroy­ing. The lan­guage re­veals a far more fun­da­men­tal­ly con­ser­v­a­tive bias than pol­i­tics ever could.

From the Latin ro­tu­lus, we al­so get the Eng­lish roll (in the sense of, a roll of toi­let­pa­per) as well as con­trol — which it­self comes from con­tra (“against”) and ro­tu­lus. So, con­trol is just what you do in or­der to fight against the wheel? The more pro­sa­ic ex­pla­na­tion, how­ev­er, comes from the rolls be­ing used to record busi­ness bal­ances in me­dieval times, and the con­trol was to dou­ble ver­i­fy each da­tum. Not as metaphor­i­cal but words have lay­ers of mean­ing, buried deeply un­der each oth­er, we must not for­get.


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