Via the newly active riley dog (now relocated to the Yukon), I got to a clever three-part poem, “A Lesson” by Jeanne Marie Beaumont, whose first part, “Vocabulary,” contains the lines:

Sty and style are not related;
neither are braid and bread…
But some words like river and rival
surprisingly are, and more obviously,
void and avoid.

The bad news is that river and rival aren’t actually related, since the Latin word ripa ‘(river) bank,’ the root of river, is of unknown etymology; the good news is that rival has a very interesting etymology which is the real focus here: it’s from Latin rivalis ‘one using the same stream as another, a rival,’ from rivus ‘stream.’ Isn’t that unexpected and delightful?

And while we’re on the subject of interesting etymologies, check out the tangled history of apricot:

Alteration of earlier abrecock, ultimately from Arabic al-barquq, the plum : al-, the + barquq, plum (from Greek praikokion, apricot, from Latin praecoquus, ripe early : prae-, pre– + coquere, to cook, ripen; see pekw- in Indo-European roots).

I will add the last sentence of the relevant entry in Waverley Root’s endlessly readable and highly recommended book Food: “The chief consumers of apricots after man are dormice, who dote on them.”


  1. Penis and peninsula.

  2. Penis and peninsula are not related — one is connected to Greek peos, “tail”, and the other is from paene + insula, “almost” + “island”. Or is that what you were implying, Zizka — that they seem like they should be related but aren’t?

  3. I don’t know, but I think he’s just saying, “Penis and peninsula.”
    Which, if you think about it, is a pretty interesting pairing.

  4. That’s my story and sticking with it. As I remember, in Italian and / or Spanish they are cognate. There are no coincidences, and no false cognates either.

  5. Is that apricot etymology saying what I think it is, viz. that praecoquus was borrowed from Latin into Greek, the resulting praikokion was borrowed from Greek into Arabic, and then al-barquq was borrowed from Arabic into some romance language like presumably Spanish and thence into English? Wow… I say this as a dedicated fan of the apricot — it is probably my favorite fruit, at any rate when I am in Modesto and can eat it at its peak of ripe freshness. The fruit available under the same name here in the Northeast will never again sully my palate. Nice to know I share my fruit preference with the noble dormouse — he was always my favorite character at the Mad Hatter’s tea party.

  6. I opened new jar of apricot jam (made in Greece) this morning and noticed this spelling:
    *abricotte* on the label.

  7. Lars Mathiesen says

    Yesterday (by some reckonings) was the day for a rivalry in the etymological sense: The day when river crayfish trapping starts in Sweden. They had to make a set date (variously the second Friday in August, the first Wednesday, or plain August 7) because the crayfish are quite mobile and trapping in your stretch of river before your neighbours start will get you more than a fair share — but if you start too soon they will be small.

    Now everybody buys their crayfish in buckets from China and the rivalries are a matter of local history. Also invasive North American crayfish (Pacifastacus) are tolerant of and carry crayfish plague which has killed off the native Astacus in many places, but the Swedes just eat those instead.

    Speaking of summer eating, I never got into the kräftskiva thing — too much work for too little meat, and too much akvavit for talking to people sensibly. But the Västerbotten (cheese) pies are usually a consolation.

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