From Latin rupes, which meant ‘rock,’ came the Modern Latin adjective rupestris ‘found on rocks.’ Spanish has carried that over as rupestre, for which the Diccionario Real de la Academia Española gives three definitions:
1. adj. Perteneciente o relativo a las rocas. Planta rupestre.
2. adj. Rudo y primitivo.
3. adj. Se dice especialmente de las pinturas y dibujos prehistóricos existentes en algunas rocas y cavernas.
English shares that first meaning in rupestrine ‘living or growing on or among rocks,’ and the third meaning in rupestrian, which refers to artwork done on a rock or on the wall of a cave.
From rupes and the root of the Latin verb colere ‘to dwell, inhabit’ we have the biological term rupícolo/rupicolous. In Diccionario de Ecología, Evolución y Taxonomía, a Spanish translation of a book by R. J. Lincoln, G. A. Boxshall, and P. F. Clark, we find this definition of rupícola (why the feminine form was chosen isn’t clear): ‘que vive sobre las paredes de las rocas; rupestre; mural.’ English rupicolous means, not surprisingly, ‘living or growing on rocks.’ (It was the plant called twistleaf yucca, which appeared recently in my other blog and whose botanical name is Yucca rupicola, that got me thinking about these words. That endemic plant of the Texas Hill Country grows in a region underlain by limestone.)
The American Heritage Dictionary traces Latin rupes to ruptus, the past participle of rumpere ‘to break,’ the predecessor of Spanish romper. The connection between the Latin words could have been that rocks were conceived as broken off pieces of the greater earth, or that people have always used rocks as hammers to break other things, e.g. nuts.
© 2012 Steven Schwartzman