The other day I bought a new faucet for the kitchen sink, and I couldn’t help noticing that the box it came in was a sort of Rosetta stone, though with cardboard in lieu of the stone that would have made the container awfully heavy. The three kinds of writing on the box were not ancient Greek and two forms of Egyptian, but the modern languages English, Spanish, and French. For this blog’s audience I’ll forgo the French, but the English text identified the product as a “HighArc Kitchen Faucet” and the Spanish as a “Grifo de Cuello de Cisne.” Whether cuello de cisne ‘swan’s neck’ is a more poetic description than high-arc [which should have a hyphen], I leave to you. By context, grifo had to mean ‘faucet,’ but I wasn’t familiar with the word. To my surprise, when I looked it up, I found that this is the same grifo that originally meant and still means ‘griffin,’ which English also spells griffon. The Spanish and English versions of the word ultimately trace back to grups, which was the ancient Greek name for the fabulous creature. As a refresher for you and me, here’s how Noah Webster defined griffon in his 1828 dictionary:

“In the natural history of the ancients, an imaginary animal said to be generated between the lion and eagle. It is represented with four legs, wings and a beak, the upper part resembling an eagle, and the lower part a lion. This animal was supposed to watch over mines of gold and hidden treasures, and was consecrated to the sun. The figure of the griffon is seen on ancient medals, and is still borne in coat-armor. It is also an ornament of Greek architecture.”

I proceeded to do a Gooogle search and turned up many images of griffons. I found that people have extended the use of the word to a type of vulture, which isn’t that much of a stretch, and also to a type of dog, which is quite a stretch. Apparently the curved shape of the mythological griffon’s eagle-like beak was what led Spanish to use grifo metaphorically for ‘a faucet.’ My new faucet, with its cuello de cisne, has added another bird to the mix.

© 2010 Steven Schwartzman


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Natalia
    Dec 04, 2010 @ 22:39:17

    Very interesting connections. It’s really overwhelming when one finds out how close languages are.


  2. wordconnections
    Dec 04, 2010 @ 22:54:42

    This blog is a good place for connecting with people who appreciate connections!


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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