What is the difference between ‘troll’ and ‘trawl’?
Are you ‘trawling through’ or ‘trolling through’ that online archive? Did you have a successful ‘trawl’ or ‘troll’ of that dictionary? It’s easy to understand why these words are often confused: not only do they sound similar (trOHl and trAWl), but both are loose synonyms for search. Trawl typically means to ‘sift through as part of a search’, as in ‘he trawled through bookshops searching for the novel’, and troll means to ‘carefully and systematically search an area for something’, as in ‘they spent hours trolling the kitchen for the missing silverware’.
One way we might go about further distinguishing the two words is by looking at their origins. The ‘searching’ sense of both trawl and troll goes back to their origins as fishing methods. (The verb troll is much older, dating to the 14th century, originally with the meaning ‘to move or walk about to and fro’.) Trawl refers to the technique of fishing with either a trawl net, a ‘large wide-mouthed fishing net dragged by a vessel along the bottom or in the midwater of a sea or a lake,’ or a seine, a net hung vertically in the water with floats at the top and weights at the bottom, which are then drawn together to encircle the fish. Troll, on the other hand, refers to the practice of trailing a baited line behind a boat.
So which one are you better off using?
The words are interchangeable in most circumstances; you could either troll the library or trawl the library in your search for a specific book. However, you might be advised to avoid troll when discussing online searches or other forms of Internet research. In that case, you are better off trawling (rather than trolling), OxfordDictionaries.com, lest your statement be confused with trolling of an entirely different sort.
This other sense of trolling, which dates to the early days of the Internet, refers to ‘making a deliberately offensive or provocative online post with the aim of upsetting someone or eliciting an angry response from them’. While this sense of troll is still largely confined to online behaviour, the growing importance of websites and social media in our everyday lives has only made the confusion more likely. While this use of troll originated with the idea of fishing with a baited hook, it was also probably influenced by the mythical troll, a ‘cave-dwelling being depicted in folklore as either a giant or a dwarf, typically having a very ugly appearance’.