chapter  8
15 Pages

The ‘nextpat’: towards an understanding of contemporary expatriate subjectivities


It is not uncommon among cocktail party etymologists these days to point out the historical linkages between the contemporary terms ‘travel’ and ‘travail’. Occasionally, some make it beyond the lexically obvious fact that the former term derives from the latter, denoting burdensome, oppressive bodily or mental labour, or toil that brings about hardship and suffering. Romanic socio-linguistic scholars have traced both terms to the Vulgar Latin trepālium, a triple-staked torture device that became particularly prevalent during the Inquisition (Liberman 2007). Subjects of such torture would be tied to the trepalium, burned with fire, and occasionally impaled (Robinson 2007). The sense of the verb trepāliāre, then, was ‘to put to torture, torment’; this later became the reflexive ‘to vex, trouble, weary oneself’, and the intransitive ‘to toil, work hard, labour’ (OED 2015). Some critics of late capitalism will no doubt be reassured to discover a modern global service industry that has emerged out of a third-century device that served as a source of agony and torture. With associations that originated perhaps as early as the third century, travellers were not simply tormented or doing unpleasant work in moving about. Rather, travel was torture. As Robert Cole (2009) has put it, ‘Airline customer service never looked so good.’