Trawl vs. troll

Trawl means to catch fish with a large cone-shaped net. Among troll‘s several verb meanings is to fish by trailing a line behind a boat. Because both words denote types of fishing—albeit different types—they are often confused. This is easy to avoid if you remember that trawl is only a fishing term (that is often used metaphorically in nonfishing contexts) and involves a net.

Both words can be used metaphorically. Troll for means to patrol or wander about an area in search of something. Trawl for means to search through or gather from a variety of sources. Because these two phrasal verbs’ definitions are so similar, trawl and troll are often mixed up in these uses.


Visitors, walking three and four abreast, troll the up-market street in search of anything from indigenous artworks to an artichoke salad. []

The measures by the National Marine Fisheries Service restrict fishing by large bottom trawl vessels in areas of the western and central Aleutian Islands. [Anchorage Daily News]

Other seafood available includes fresh troll-caught king salmon from Southeast and whole yellow-eye rockfish. [Anchorage Daily News]

Most years, the mid-winter weeks are high times for the commercial food shrimpers who trawl Biscayne Bay. [Miami Herald]

That means scammers can troll for victims with little risk to themselves, either legal or financial. [Corvallis Gazette Times]

4 thoughts on “Trawl vs. troll”

  1. I think the phrase “to troll” came about with regard to the Internet as a result of a misunderstanding. The Internet participants used the word “troll” when they meant “trawl” and the the word “troll” crept into common use due to this misunderstanding. Prior to the Internet, a troll was used to describe an ogre or some other mythical beast who turned to stone at the break of dawn. As a person over 55, I don’t remember the word “troll” being used as it is used today, and I would have used the word “trawl” to describe the act of “trolling” which I’d describe as a non-word. Can someone point to a pre-Internet use of the term “to troll” or “trolling” ?

  2. My speculation:

    Troll is a mondegreen of trawl, and was one of the victims of the growth of vulgarised, dumbed-down U.S. English. TROLL is how TRAWL is pronounced with an English accent. Some American listener heard TROLL, and another diminished word was born.


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