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Question: My dictionary says that the word "pander" comes from the Latin word "Pandarus." Can you tell me more about this? Is "Pandarus" a person's name?

Answer: "Pandarus" is the name of a character in ancient Greek legend. In stories of the Trojan War, Pandarus was a Lycian archer who fought with the Trojans. He is remembered as the one who broke the truce between the Greeks and the Trojans by wounding Menelaus, the king of Sparta, with an arrow.

In medieval retellings of the story of Troy, Pandarus' role changes as he is depicted as a player in the ill-fated love affair between Troilus, a Trojan prince, and Cressida, the daughter of a Greek priest. Pandarus acts as a benevolent go-between for the two lovers. Later in Shakespeare's version of the story, Pandarus' role changes yet again, and he is portrayed in the less honorable role of a man procuring sexual favors for another.

The meaning of "pander" in English mirrors the changing characterization of Pandarus. In the early 16th century "pander" referred to one who acts as a go-between for lovers. Later the word took on the pejorative meaning "pimp" or "procurer." The use of "pander" as a verb meaning "to provide gratification for someone's baser desires" is known by the early 17th century.

Question: Would you please explain why "controller" is used to denote a company's financial officer, while "comptroller" is used by government and military organizations?

Answer: To answer your question we need to go back more than 500 years. In Medieval England, the word "contrerollour" or "counter-roller" was used to designate a person who kept a counter-roll, or duplicate record, of accounts to be checked against the treasurer's records. The word was derived from the French "contre-rolleur" (from "contre-" meaning "against"), which was used in the same sense as the English word.

By around 1500, English "counter-roller" had been shortened somewhat to "countroller," which put certain people in mind of the French word "compte," from which English "count," meaning "calculate," is derived. These people (apparently the "countrollers" themselves, who may have had an inflated idea of their importance as well as of their etymological prowess) came to the conclusion that the word ought to be "comptroller" (pronounced, despite its spelling, like "controller"), and so henceforth it usually was, although "controller" was also in use.

Now let's zoom forward about 400 years. We don't really know much about the word in the meantime, except that William Shakespeare, Edmund Burke, and Jonathan Swift used "comptroller." Then in 1879 we are informed by an article in Scribner's Magazine that "a conflict between a true and a false spelling that is, between "controller" and "comptroller" is now silently going on." The article writer is generally resigned to "comptroller" as more common than "controller" despite the incongruity of its spelling and pronunciation, but a less tolerant view was taken by the New York Times in 1896, Fowler's Modern English Usage in 1926, and the Literary Digest in 1931. These three in turn stated flatly that "comptroller" "should be abolished," is "archaic" and "erroneous," and "should not be accepted as correct."

For a time such criticism seems to have little effect. True, the Controllers Institute of America chose "controller" as "more in keeping with the times," but in 1945 a Merriam-Webster editor replied to a correspondent that "either form is in good usage." Ten years later, however, our editors noted that "comptroller" was "declining rapidly." This was at least partly due to the fact that whenever such a position was newly created, as in a new business, "controller" had become the spelling of choice.

In the meantime, "comptroller" remained, and still remains, on government personnel rolls; after all, the word has been written and rewritten in official documents for many decades, and the wheels of state grind ever so slowly.