A PATHETIC TREE TRUNK
Bollard is the rather funny-sounding word for those little posts used for traffic control on the sides of the road, or for the pole that a ship is tethered to. The traffic-related sense emerged in the 1940s from the resemblance to the nautical definition, and that came about in the 1840s from the botanical term bole, meaning "tree trunk", and the suffix -ard, which is curiously mostly used a pejorative suffix (think drunkard, coward, bastard). So it's a pathetic excuse for a tree trunk, I suppose? Bole was borrowed in the early fourteenth century from Old Norse bolr, which came from Proto-Germanic bulas (both with the same meaning). Finally, it all comes from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction bhel, which meant "to swell" and is also the source of words like ball, balloon, bull, and bollocks.
The relation between the traffic cones in England and the nautical world may not be only of resemblance. I understand bollards were also made of used cannons (with a ball on top) to keep off the traffic. When the British Navy upgraded they warships they needed to get rid of the cannons.and found this specific use for them.
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Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic. This year, I graduated from Harvard University with a degree in Government and Linguistics. There, I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society and wrote a thesis on Serbo-Croatian language policy, magna cum laude. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.