col·​por·​teur ˈkäl-ˌpȯr-tər How to pronounce colporteur (audio)
: a peddler of religious books

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In 19th-century America, the word colporteur (a French borrowing meaning "peddler") came to be used especially of door-to-door peddlers of religious books and tracts, and it has carried that specific sense into the 21st century. The word traces to the Latin prefix com- ("together") plus the verb "portare" ("to carry"), two elements that were brought together to create "comportare" ("to bring together"). Middle French speakers tucked that word into their linguistic pack as "comporter" ("to carry" or "to peddle"), giving rise to "comporteur." Over time, perhaps influenced by the phrase "porter à col" ("to carry on one's back or neck"), the term's spelling shifted to the form now used.

Word History


French, alteration of Middle French comporteur, from comporter to bear, peddle

First Known Use

1796, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of colporteur was in 1796


Dictionary Entries Near colporteur

Cite this Entry

“Colporteur.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 7 Dec. 2023.

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