The Language Attic: Troglodyte

by Brenda W. Clough

 I am a child of my generation, and so when you say ‘trog’ I think of mop-topped young men with guitars crooning minor Top-40 hits like “Wild Thing” and “Love is All Around.” But the 1960s rock band’s name was originally the Troglodytes — too long to fit onto the bass drum! They were wise to shorten it to the Troggs.

And the original word? It has a much more sterling and ancient pedigree. It derives from the ancient Greek, and means ‘cave divers.’ The Troglodytae are mentioned in the Histories of Herodotus. Other ancient authorities like Strabo and Josephus use it, usually to refer to people with very exotic habits that live somewhere far away that the author has never been — Africa, or Arabia.

The ancient meaning has not been lost. In modern books and gaming the word is dragged out and applied to opponents who live in caves or underground: mole men, monstrous miners, cave dwelling tribes who practice cannibalism, and such. Being almost entirely fictional, ‘troglodyte’ has become a safe denigratory term to use in an era when you can no longer deplore people for other traits. Race, color, religion, sexuality, weight, gender preference, nationality — all are now difficult, and newly challenging terms arise every day. I was dismayed when ‘oriental’ no longer was allowable; I’ve been billing myself as a mysterious Oriental beauty for so long!

The Troggs won’t complain, since the band is essentially dissolved now, due to the death of most of the founding members. So ‘troglodyte’ is a handy word to have, and we could possibly use a few more like it.

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About Brenda Clough

Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. Her first fantasy novel, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, where she lives in a cottage at the edge of a forest. Her novel How Like a God, available from BVC, was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires.
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3 Responses to The Language Attic: Troglodyte

  1. Actually, it’s not all that safe in some circles, as it came to connote someone mentally and physically challenged.

  2. Zena says:

    My only problem with this word is that, inexplicably, no matter how many times I read and repeat it carefully, it always comes out in my mind’s ear as “trogdolyte.” I’m afraid that if I ever tried to actually utter it out loud, that’s how I would say it—branding me as a full-fledged member of that very clan of being…

  3. Here is an actual usage of the term, in French:
    https://generationvoyage.fr/maisons-troglodytes-grottes-eyzies-tayac-sireuil/

    Unfortunately I don’t -speak- French, but I think it means “house of cavemen”

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