A travesty means something absurd in a bad way right now, but earlier it meant "burlesque", under the connection of absurdity. In the 1670s, this was borrowed into the English language from French travestir, or "to disguise" (because burlesque actors would disguise themselves). This is composed of two Latin components: trans, meaning "over", and vestire, meaning "to dress". In effect, actors were considered "cross-dressers", literally. Those very words, trans and vestire, would also combine to create the offensive term transvestite, an unfortunate coincidence but one which also makes perfect sense. Trans comes from Proto-Indo-European terh, Vestire likewise comes from PIE west, meaning "to clothe" as well. Usage of both words has been decreasing over the years (after almost equalling each other around 2000), but transvestite has been a bit more precipitous since the'90s.
Adam Aleksic is a 220-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard University in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd