In the Rolling Stones song Sympathy for the Devil, Mick Jagger sings "and I laid traps for troubadours / Who get killed before they reach Bombay". This is quite the bizarre lyric, and it's far from obvious what it's supposed to allude to. Apparently, it's a reference to the dangers of the "Hippie Trail", a counterculture journey taken by Western hippies across Asia in the 1960s and '70s. A lot of the tourists were tricked and sometimes killed by drug dealers along the route, and the Rolling Stones are implying that the Devil was present there. But what the heck is a troubadour? Today, it can mean "poet" of any kind, but originally it only referred a type of French poet in the Middle Ages, and that's still a persisting definition. The earliest recorded use of the word was in an 1100s Occitan text, and before that everything is speculatory. There's a good chance that it might trace from Latin tropus, meaning "song", though, and that would be from Ancient Greek tropos, which meant "style" and is the etymon of trope. Fascinating stuff!
Adam Aleksic is a 221-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