The word rival, spelled the same in Spanish and English but of course pronounced differently, has an etymology that few people would guess. It comes from the Latin adjective rīvālis, which referred to two people who use the same rīvus, i.e. the same stream. Just goes to show that today’s fights over water rights are nothing new. And just because Latin rīvus meant ‘stream,’ we shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that English river comes from the same source. It doesn’t, and therefore neither does the Spanish cognate ribera. It’s just a coincidence that Latin rīpa, ultimately the source of river and ribera, happened to mean ‘river bank.’ From Latin rīpa came the adjective rīpārius ‘having to do with a river bank,’ whose feminine form *rīpāria began to function as a noun in Vulgar Latin. Spanish ribera preserves the original sense of the river bank. In French rivière and English river, however, semantic drift has carried the meaning out into the water.

Coming back to the Latin rīvus that meant ‘stream,’ we’ll note that the derived verb derivar/derive has the literal sense ‘to flow from.’ The underlying Indo-European root *rei-, which meant ‘to flow’ and ‘to run,’ is the source of native English run.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Feb 18, 2018 @ 22:13:38

    The first thing that came to mind wasn’t in English, but Spanish. Ribera is used in one of my favorite carols: “Riu, riu, chiu.”

    Riu, riu, chiu, la guarda ribera
    Dios guardó el lobo de nuestra cordera.
    Riu, riu, chiu, la guarda ribera
    Dios guardó el lobo de nuestra cordera.

    And now the English phrases ‘riparian forest’ or ‘riparian woods’ make more sense. I always knew what they meant in a general way, but this clarifies things. Thanks!


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Feb 19, 2018 @ 06:57:41

      You’re welcome, says etymology. I’ve often found that the three years of Latin I took in high have let me make sense of technical terms. Sometimes the process has gone in the opposite direction and technical terms have introduced me to new Latin words.

      The song you alluded to is interesting in the way its first word is Catalan rather than Spanish. As the relevant Wikipedia article notes: “The song also bears a strong resemblance to another villancico, Falalanlera, by Bartomeu Càrceres, a Catalan composer.”


  2. Maria
    Feb 18, 2018 @ 23:59:58

    This is what I found on ‘ribera’:
    They go on to say ‘ripa’ is a root meaning ‘cortar o rasgar’. Isn’t this a direct relationship with the English word ‘rip’ which also means the same?


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If you encounter an unfamiliar technical term in any of these postings, check the Glossary in the bar across the top of the page.

©2011–2018 Steven Schwartzman

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