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


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Mar 11, 2012 @ 12:46:26

    A completely new set of words! And one I can make use of, although “artwork” will have to be defined rather loosely. Here’s a marvelous article about an ice age cave accidentally opened up in Missouri, and the rupestrian markings left by the cave dwellers.

    Beyond that, I think I see why an interruption in a broadcast or conversation might be called “breaking in”. And of course “Romper Room” as a television program was designed for the age group given to breaking things!


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Mar 11, 2012 @ 13:46:09

      Happy new! And that ice age cave is news to me: so much we’re learning about the past. And, via all the technical botanical jargon and scientific plant names that I’m exposed to, I’m learning plenty of Latin words that I never got to see in my three years of high school Latin.

      To interrupt is definitely ‘to break into,’ but the verb romp (and therefore romper) arose as a variant of the ramp that means ‘to rear up or stand threateningly.’ English took that from French, which got it from a Germanic original. Still, rompers can break things when they rear up.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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