Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


WE HAVE LOTS OF WORDS inherited from the French, at least in part because of the 1066 Norman Conquest. A bunch have been added later as well: pococurante, from Voltaire’s Candide, passpartout, “pass through everything,” passkey, familiar from Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, and today’s colporteur.

Once again, I thank the Word Genius website for introducing me to this word, its primary meaning being “a person who sells books, newspapers, and similar literature.” It’s a secondary meaning, though, that attracts my attention in tidbit gleaning. 

Etymology. The English word “colporteur” comes from 18th-century France, col being French for “neck,” porteur meaning “carrier” or “porter.” Originally, it described a street hawker or peddler of any kind. 

In French, Word Genius notes, “It’s still in use today as a synonym for ‘door-to-door salesperson’ and is seen on door stickers reading ‘Pas de Colporteurs,’ which is equivalent to the English “No Solicitors.” 

“In English,” the website notes, “the loanword ‘colporteur’ is associated specifically with peddlers of published materials, and historically, religious books in particular. Thus, anyone who hawks tracts for sale in public places is a colporteur. (Famed American composer Cole Porter has no association with the word.)”

O’Neal Association. The O’Neal family, father Ryan and daughter Tatum, certainly has a colporteur association through the charming 1973 movie Paper Moon.

Ryan portrays itinerant con man Moses Pray in 1936 Kansas. Daughter Tatum, nine at the time, portrays nine-year-old Addie Loggins, who might be Moses’ daughter. They get involved with bootleggers while peddling expensive bibles to grieving widows (hence the colporteur association). 

Tatum’s Oscar. Wikipedia notes, “On April 2, 1974, at age ten, Tatum O’Neal won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and the Golden Globe Award for New Star Of The Year – Actress for her performance in Paper Moon, released in May 1973.

Tatum O’Neal in 1974, winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in Paper Moon. Image from UCLA Library Special Collections.

Wikipedia observes, “The youngest ever to win a competitive Academy Award, she turned nine years old during filming in autumn 1972.”

Other Colporteurs Of Note. Wikipedia describes that “Colportage became common in Europe with the distribution of contending religious tracts and books during the religious controversies of the Reformation. In addition to controversial works, the itinerant book-peddling colporteurs also spread widely cheap editions of the popular works of the day to an increasingly literate rural population which had little access to the book shops of the cities.”

The BICA. Wikipedia notes that the BICA was another family affair: “D. L. Moody founded the Bible Institute Colportage Association (BICA) in 1894 to provide a source for inexpensive Christian literature. Moody’s son-in-law,  A.P. Fitt, managed BICA operations. Publishing was contracted to Moody’s brother-in-law, Fleming Revell, and his upstart publishing company.” 

Dwight Lyman Moody, 1837–1899, American evangelist and publisher.

I recall Dwight Moody writing, “If a man doesn’t treat his wife right, I don’t want to hear him talk about Christianity.” And, apparently, treat his extended family as well. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2023

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