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Reporters Engage in 'Tranche' Warfare

Rob Kyff on

Reporters covering hurricane disaster relief during recent weeks have been donning their "tranche" coats. Many news outlets described the initial package of federal money for Harvey's victims as "the first tranche" of aid, adding that assistance would be allocated in "multiple tranches."

Where does "tranche" come from, why is it proliferating, and how is it pronounced?

"Tranche" derives from the Old French word "trancher," meaning "to slice or cut," the same root that gives us "trench" and "trenchant" (penetrating, clear-cut). In French, "tranche" means "a slice," as in "une tranche de vie" (a slice of life).

But oddly enough, when "tranche" entered English during the late 1800s, it was used only with a very specific meaning: a portion of financial bonds that had been "sliced out" from a larger group of bonds because they shared similar rates of return or maturity dates.

This narrow financial definition still flourishes today, e.g., "Argentina sold four tranches of bonds on Tuesday that will come due in 2019, 2021, 2026 and 2046."

But during the past century, "tranche" has broadened in meaning to denote a portion of any financial asset and, in recent years, a slice of just about anything.

The Washington Post, for instance, reported that The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity had released "a tranche of public comments," while writer Katricia Brown referred to "three tranches of excerpts" from Hillary Clinton's memoir "What Happened."

 

The typhoid Mary in the recent contagion of "tranche"-mouth is probably former White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.

Describing the parceling out of U.S. financial aid to Egypt at a 2013 news briefing, he uttered the word no fewer than 14 times, e.g., "There are tranches of assistance, but it is evaluated in tranches, by considering individual tranches of assistance . . . it is a package of tranches, a series of tranches." (To watch and laugh, look up "Josh Earnest Tranche.")

Earnest pronounced the word as "TRAWNCH" (rhymes with "launch"), but most American dictionaries prefer that we preserve the original French pronunciation by rendering the "a" as "AH," adding just a hint of an "n" in the middle, and finishing with an "sh" sound: "TRAHnSH." (The Brits pronounce it with more of an "ON" sound: "TROnSH).

Only a small tranche of dictionaries recommend "TRANCH" (rhymes with "ranch"), a rendering that makes most pronunciation sticklers blanch.

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Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Conn., invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via e-mail to Wordguy@aol.com or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

Copyright 2017 Creators Syndicate Inc.
 

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