In a bit of versifying on my other blog recently I used the uncommon and now mostly literary English verb lave, which Spanish speakers will easily recognize as a cognate of lavar ‘to wash.’ I assumed English took the word from Old French laver, but in looking up the etymology of lave I found that the Old French verb merely reinforced an earlier borrowing, one in which Old English created the verb lafian directly from Latin lavāre. I’d also assumed that lava, the volcanic substance for which Spanish and English use the same word, was related, but The American Heritage Dictionary explains that the noun came from Italian, which may have inherited it from Latin lābēs ‘a fall,’ given the way lava “falls” down the side of a volcano. Yet another thing I learned is that Spanish has a second noun lava that is related to lavar and that engineers use to mean ‘the act of washing,’ as applied to minerals, for example.
The two etymological trails meet in a heavy-duty handwashing product that I remember from childhood and that I see still exists: Lava soap, which contains particles of the ground-up volcanic rock called pumice.
© 2015 Steven Schwartzman